Book One – The Ghosts of Moonlight Valley
For Nimitz and Johnny D
The young witch glided toward the mountain, fearful of the cave coming into view. Her long, black, purple streaked hair whipped into her face as a strong gust of wind flowed around her. The storm overhead roared, threatening rain and hurling unbearably loud thunderclaps all around her. The sun had gone down hours ago and the moon couldn’t quite find it’s way through the fat clouds overhead.
As she glanced at her feet, she realized that she hadn’t been walking, but levitating along the grassy cliff side path.
As the cave entrance loomed toward her, a shiver ran up her spine. Darkness, darker than the night itself, crept around the edge of her vision. A nearly crippling loneliness clutched her heart as she stared into the opening. She wanted to go in so badly, to see what has drawn her here, but the fear of what she may find held her in place.
A familiar tune found it’s way to her from within. It’s a song her mother hummed to her as a child. She took a deep breath, not feeling the cold air entering her lungs.
“Mom!” she yelled. Her mouth was closed, the word coming from within. It sounded so foreign to her, bouncing out of the cave, off the mountains, and mixing with the thunder.
As she attempted to step into the cave, her shoe is stopped by an invisible barrier. It seems to be the same kind that protects her town, only localized to this one spot. She pounded a small fist against it.
“Let me in!” she pleaded.
Her fist hit the barrier again as the inside of the cave lit up. An eerie purple light emanated from crystals sprouting from various places along the walls. Stinging tears streamed from her eyes as she scanned the interior. Ahead of her, seated on a straw bed, a woman turned her head away, spilling a shining mane of black hair over the shoulder of her silver robe.
She pounded on the barrier, desperate to break through, but she could only observe. Sure that this was what she has been waiting for, the witch stared intently at the woman, trying to catch at least a glimpse of her face.
The woman stood and moved to a small wood stove, tending to a tea kettle that had just begun to whistle. As she reached for the kettle, her hand brushed a ceramic mug. The witch watched as it slowly tumbled end over end to the rocky floor, shattering.
The woman turned and bent to clean up the shards, revealing her face. It was nothing short of true beauty for the ages. Flawless porcelain skin covered an oval face. Above her cat-like hazel eyes, her brows are pinched together. Her full red lips were pursed. She was obviously upset, but whether it was about the cup or something else, the which didn’t know. Suddenly, she looked up at the witch, recognition sparked in her eyes.
Stacia Bloom, the young witch’s mother, stood and ran toward the barrier. But with every step forward, she appeared farther away. Stacia reached for Zoe, the panic strained her perfect features.
As Zoe reached out, her mother began to move up as well as away, and Zoe realized that she was no longer standing on the cliff side, but falling. Her breathing stopped as her stomach seemed to have been launched into her lungs, and her watery eyes locked onto the jagged rocks below. In her mind, she saw her body breaking on the rocks just as the waves did.
“Zoe!” a voice called out.
The falling slowed and became hazy.
“Zoe, wake up!” It was her father’s voice.
The fear and confusion melted away as Zoe saw her messy room, her sheets, and her father’s loving face.
“Dad, I saw mom!” she said groggily. “She was warning me about something.”
Leo softly took her hand and pushed an errant strand of purple hair behind her ear. Fully awake then, Zoe leaned her head on her father’s shoulder.
“Want to talk about it?” he asked.
“No,” Zoe replied. “I just need to catch my breath.” Her demeanor changed as she looked up into his eyes. “But some pancakes would be nice,” she said sheepishly.
“Anything you want, punkin,” he said with a smile, then stood. “You sounded more scared than usual. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah,” she said after a moment of silence. “It was just different than my other nightmares. She had even aged. Do you think it was a vision?”
“I don’t know, darling. You’re the magic one. Maybe you should ask your gramps about it.”
With a nod from Zoe, her father turned to leave.
“With strawberry syrup?” she asked.
With guidance from her father, Zoe had been doing her own laundry since she was ten, but she didn’t mind. As usual, her hamper was full of dirty clothes (almost all of which had come from the Outside.) When her powers came in, she knew that she’d be using magic to solve the issue.
Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to put a load in. Her nightmare had ended minutes before her alarm would normally have gone off. She closed the closet door on the mostly empty hangars and turned her attention to a pile of old clothes that she intended to donate to the local thrift store. A pair of holey jeans, although not exactly fashionable (Zoe’s small town had ideas very different from the Outside world,) they would suffice. A groan escaped her as she found the only wearable shirt in the pile, a white tee with glitter surrounding a jovial looking cat’s face. To top off the ensemble, she chooses a black holiday robe, replete with a garishly pointed hat and a dreaded pair of of pointy shoes. Thankfully, irons weren’t necessary in her town. Clothing was typically magically imbued with wrinkle free threading, and for anything that wasn’t, a very simple unwrinkling spell could be used.
With her outfit chosen and put on, she threw her printed pajamas somewhere in the vicinity of the hamper, took a deep breath, and mentally prepared for the day. Ignoring her mirror, she moved to two pictures hanging by the door.
The first was taken at Reflecting Lake when Zoe was five. In it, she was smiling and holding one of each of her parent’s hands. Contrary to her usual tomboy nature, she was wearing a pink dress adorned with small golden butterflies. Her mother had encouraged dresses and Zoe liked them as well but when her mother disappeared, she stopped owning dresses altogether.
The second picture is of her mother wearing her usual silver robe, performing a blessing on the garden in their back yard. She exuded regality, standing proudly with her arm and wand outstretched, a glowing smile.
“Mom where are you? Why did you leave?” Zoe wondered aloud,”Will I ever see you again?”
The question faded as she entered the kitchen and smelled the pancakes. The mystery of Stacia Bloom would continue.
The morning was brisk, but no threat of precipitation loomed (according to the local weather broadcast, anyway.) A ray of sunshine broke through a few fluffy white clouds, bringing behind it a pure crystal blue sky, and finally touched down on a small town in Oregon. Between Portland and Eugene, east of Salem, lies Moonlight Valley. Otherwise invisible to everyone but the very special 203 residents (plus four on the way,) it looked like it belonged on a 50s era postcard. Aside from the various witches, warlocks, and other magical creatures, of course.
It was day one of a Sabbat for the town called Samhain, a three day holiday that begins on October 31st. It is also known as The Witches New Year to the Wiccan community. The residents would wear black shoes and traditional black robes with an orange crescent moon emblazoned on the chest. Witches’s shoes were pointed, warlock’s shoes were pointed, and those that didn’t wear shoes would wear ankle bracelets, rings, or other forms of jewelry.
One such storefront was that of Pritchard’s Pantry, named for it’s owner, Pritchard Blackwood. He was always the first to open for the day, promptly at first light. In addition to groceries, Pritchard’s had various hot beverages available along with fresh pastries that his wife would prepare. She was well known for her ability to supplement her cooking with magic, cutting her cooking times in half.
The Elders would frequently stop in on their way to the Sacred Hall at the end of the Main Street as well as Verdelet, the town High Officer. On holidays he brings the Magistra special black roast coffee. It is always unsweetened, with two spoons of Nubian goat cream (sourced locally from Ottoman Farm.) Seven minutes later, like every other morning, Verdelet delivered this coffee to the town’s interim Magistra Daria Rane.
Shortly after Verdelet’s departure from the store, a Goblin would order piping hot chocolate topped with whipped cream for himself. It had taken him years to finally try the delicious cream. It suits him fine.
Pritchard Blackwood was generally a happy and hard working warlock. He would manually assemble the produce stand in front of his store, and place every fruit and vegetable just right. Any hint of bruising, rot, insects, or visual blemishes and he would send the fruit to the local farm for pig feed. The store generated just enough income to cover his expenses, have a small nest egg for emergencies, and keep his family comfortable. He had never focused on profits, choosing instead to ensure that all of his customers walked away happy.
Pritchard nonchalantly waved of his wand, the glass store entrance unlocked and the “open” sign lit up. Arms wrapped around his waist from behind and he turned to kiss his wife on the forehead.
“Ready for another day?” she asked.
“Always,” he replied with a smile.
Pritchard saw Mrs. Sapharnia, a nymph and teacher at Paragon Academy of Magic, approaching the doorway. He opened it for her and greeted her with a smile.
“Ola!” she exclaimed happily, wearing a large smile. Pritchard was moving to pour her a cup of coffee before the door had even closed.
“Medium, black, one lump?” he asked.
“Oh, no thank you, Mr. Blackwood. I had time to make some at home,” she replied, still smiling. “But I do need some dill. My garden was completely frozen this morning, and I can’t have eggs without dill!” She emphasized the last word with a pointed finger.
“Ah,” Pritchard said with an empathetic frown. “Did you try a warming spell?”
“I did, and I ended up burning them,” she said with a nervous laugh. Being a teacher, it was embarrassing to make mistakes with spells. Fortunately, Pritchard was not the judgmental type. He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us.”
Mrs. Sapharnia neglected to tell Pritchard about why she had been distracted when casting her spell. The night before, her husband, Thisbe, had attempted to make dinner without the aid of magic. The result was disastrous. The meat was beyond well done, the potatoes were under cooked, and the vegetables were more of a paste than anything recognizable. The whole ordeal had required Mrs. Sapharnia to contact Aldo, Zoe’s grandfather, for an herbal remedy to calm her stomach.
“1.25 please, Mrs. Sapharnia,” Pritchard says after bringing the dill to the checkout counter. Mrs. Sapharnia’s eyebrows twitched upward slightly in surprise.
“Pritchard, have you gone and increased your prices on me?”
“No, never!” he said. “It just so happens that this is the best dill on the market, imported from our friends in Germany. If you liked your eggs before, they’re really going to zing.” She eyed him with good natured suspicion, but he continued. “And for chicken, just this with a little butter and garlic will send you to the moon!”
With a satisfied nod, she handed the currency over.
“Don’t forget the receipt please,” she requested. Mrs. Sapharnia had always been a thrifty shopper, marking every transaction in a small ledger. “Thank you, Mr. Blackwood. I’ll tell you know they turn out at the festival tonight.”
With a flashy smile and wave, she exited the store with an extra bounce in her step. She is excited about tonight’s festivities as will be all the citizens. Tonight will bring more than just celebration.
Zoe and Leo were walking along a well worn path through Hallowed Forest on their way to Aldo Winter’s house. Aldo was Stacia’s father, Zoe’s grandfather. He had grown up in the Bloom house, and had raised his daughter there with his wife, Tempe. After Stacia had left for classes at an Outsider college, Tempe had become ill. No amount of magic could heal her, and she refused to go to the hospital in California. She had only been 55, but she had known that it was her time. Aldo was devastated having been married to Tempe since he was eighteen.
He moved into a small cabin buried in the woods outside of town just after Stacia’s marriage to Leo. Aldo wanted them to have a place of their own, but he also wanted solitude, and to continue his work on the illness that had claimed his wife. The year before, he had discovered a rare berry that, unless consumed properly, would poison the consumer. Although he hadn’t yet found a cure, he made sure to notify the town, which promptly burned the berry producing plants.
“Watch the path, dad,” Zoe warned. The path can twist but otherwise it’s a fairly easy trek.
Zoe loved walks with her father. It gave them time to catch up on each others busy lives, such as the current series of books she was reading, Zombie Fallout. Initially, Leo hadn’t wanted Zoe reading about scary and adult situations, but she had assured him that zombies didn’t scare her and she was mature enough to handle anything else. Ever since the first book, she was swept up in the Outsider zombie fascination, and forming a new bond with her non-magical father. He still preferred mystery novels, but enjoyed sharing conversations about zombie books with his daughter.
“So Mike Talbot and his family are facing off against endless zombies, again,” Zoe continued. “But dad, he’s so funny with B.T., I can’t wait for you to read this series.”
“Do they ever win?” Leo asked. He preferred happy, or at least not hopeless, endings. Unfortunately, zombie books ended badly as often as they ended well.
“I’m not sure yet, but they always seem to get away. But this time there’s a vampire.”
“A good one, or a bad one?” he asked. Just like the Outside world, they had vampires, but theirs were real, and not bound to a good or evil side.
Zoe was about to answer when she saw Aldo’s house not too much farther along the path that had caused her excitement to rise.
It was one story, painted a creamy white, and had a porch that wrapped around it entirely. Four chairs, one a rocker, sat on the porch, faced toward the front. If she continued toward the back, she would see the kitchen windows overlooking his garden full of the various herbs that Aldo needed for his potions. Beyond the garden was a smaller house built for his live in maid, Marigold. It even featured a smaller garden for vegetables. Aldo had hired Marigold shortly after moving to his cabin, insisting that Stacia was too busy to be “cleaning up after an old man.” It also helped that she wasn’t stomping through the house.
Four steps up the porch, three to the door, and Zoe greeted the knocker.
“Good morning, knocker.”
It didn’t respond, simply looking at her with it’s very simple carved eyes, nose, and mouth. Knockers were not known for their hospitality. Or any behavior, for that matter, since they were just carved wood. Nothing needed to be said to a knocker. It simply announced who was in front of it.
“Zoe Bloom and Leo Bloom, have arrived,” the knocker stated flatly.
Marigold’s fairy wings fluttered quietly as she opened the door to let them in.
“Good holiday, Blooms!” she said.
Her blond hair was straight and perfect, flowing over her ample (for a fairy) bosom, and down over her nearly as ample belly. A small locket, a courting gift from her husband and the only one she owned, lay between her breasts. Contrary to popular Outsider belief, Fairies were just as susceptible to over indulgence as any other creature. Hers was due to the loss of her husband, a goblin she had met about 200 years before in her twenties. At the time, Ireland forbid crossing magic between species, but their hearts couldn’t be swayed, so they had moved from the forest to Moonlight Valley.
Silver, her husband, had been an inventor, having even created many tools in current use by their farmers. He was also fanatic about mysterious places. After three years of convincing Marigold, plotting a safe route, finding an enchanted and foolproof navigation system, and building his own boat, he left to explore the Bermuda Triangle, never to be heard from again. The covens in Florida continued investigating and monitoring the area, but had never turned up any clues.
Marigold didn’t like being referred to as a widow, but her story was so well known that it was hard to avoid.
Marigold floated along the foyer. Her blue eyes gleamed, indicating her happy mood. A mouth watering aroma filled the house, quite normal for any time of the day. One of Marigold’s duties included having coffee and tea on standby.
“Is gramps home, Marigold?” Zoe asked.
“Sorry. He’s in the marsh gathering herbs for some concoction or another, but he should return soon.” she replied, “Care for some coffee or tea if you intend to wait?”
“I’ll have a coffee. Thank you, Marigold,” Leo said.
“Berry tea for me, please,” Zoe said with a hint of disappointment. She had hoped Aldo would be home, but she knows that she should have texted him first.
On the way to the kitchen, they pass picture frames that rotate through various members of the Winter families. Although it was a technology known to Outsiders, the magic community had been enchanting frames for centuries, including hers. The sight of her mother caused her to pause and sigh. Leo instantly saw the change in her.
“Don’t worry, punkin,” he said, placing and arm around her shoulder. “We’ll find her.”
Zoe’s watery eyes looked up at his.
“When?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but we’ll never stop looking.”
“But I’m coming into my power in two months! I want her to be there. She should be there.”
A tear rolled down her cheek, and Leo brushed it away from her chin.
“She’ll know, Zoe. Some how, some way, she’ll feel you changing, and she’ll be there with you, even if it’s just our hearts.”
“I don’t know dad, that dream…” she trailed off. It was still bothering her how real it had all seemed.
“Let’s focus on your adventure tonight,” he tried. “Trick or treat, just like I used to. Okay?”
Zoe nodded and hugged him before walking into the kitchen.
It was a medium sized room, plenty of sleek counter tops and glass cabinets, with a pantry to the right side. The pantry contained meticulously organized shelves of canned fruits and vegetables (some of which will be sold to Pritchard’s Pantry) that Marigold prepared year round.
The kitchen table that could fit four comfortably, stood before them with a glass of freshly squeezed apple juice sitting alone on the surface. Marigold often enjoyed fresh apple juice, made with apples picked from the take-what-you-want town orchard. The Smiths, a non magical couple with a magical daughter, Jenny ran the orchard. They were always happy to see Marigold on her Saturday picking trips.
Zoe sat near the stove for the extra warmth while the other two shuffled to their spots. A moment later, Marigold placed a cup of black coffee down for Leo, and a berry tea with three lumps of sugar in front of Zoe. Her father had cut the amount from five lumps when Zoe’s adult teeth were growing in. Luckily, she could still have the cookies that Marigold had just placed on the table.
“Are you going to wait here with me, dad?” Zoe asked.
“Yes, punkin. My whole day is yours,” he responds with a smile, which was then returned by Zoe.
They passed the time talking about the food they would see at the festival, and listening to Marigold talk about what she would bring. Before long, a companionable silence fell over them.
“So the P.O. Box I have in the city is much more reliable than the school,” Leo said. Marigold looked at him with confusion.
“It’s an Outsider thing,” he explained. “Since the post office can’t deliver here, I need to get my mail. Plus, Zoe is waiting on her new book series, Merlin. She’d turn me into a turnip or something if it got lost.”
Zoe giggled. She enjoyed Outsider books that portrayed magic in a positive light. Merlin, King Arthur, the whole saga was right up her alley.
“I knew a Merlin when I lived in Germany, many years ago,” Marigold said. “Except he was a bird that guided people through Long Stand Mountains.”
“Never heard of it,” Zoe said. Leo said nothing and simply shrugged.
“It was a treacherous path. Before the Giants there became neutral, they would scoop travelers up and make snacks out of them. Merlin was able to help people dodge them, or negotiate with them if necessary.”
“Glad we have GPS now,” Leo teased, eliciting a laugh from Zoe and a good natured glare from Marigold. Not a fan of the outside world, Marigold ended her end of the conversation by returning to the dough she had been kneading.
Zoe’s mind wandered to the upcoming trick or treating. Her dad had shared many of his Halloween memories with her, but her fear of Outsiders had kept her from doing it until that year. She trusted her father, but she didn’t trust herself to deal with such a new experience. Her awkwardness in Moonlight Valley was enough to keep her occupied.
Earlier in the year, Zoe had been granted unsupervised access to her father’s laptop. Leo was generally a lenient father, but when it came to mature content he wanted to make sure that it wasn’t too gratuitous. She solidified his trust in her by being honest whenever he asked about what she was doing. Before long, their computer use times began conflicting, so Leo bought her a new laptop.
It had opened up an entirely new world for her, and she soaked it up like a sponge. Between playing various games, she researched voraciously.
“Dad?” Zoe asked, looking up from her tea.
“Do you think the Smiths will let Jenny go trick or treating?”
“Maybe,” he said, furrowing his brow. “With them being Outsiders as well, they’ll know all about trick or treating. I’m sure they’ll leave it up to her, just like I left it up to you.”
Zoe smiled, happy that even if she were alone, she’d be the first Moonlight Valley citizen to make such a trip. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to share her experiences with anyone. She didn’t have any real friends to speak of. Children were often not very inclusive of others that had Outsider parents.
“Just do what you feel most comfortable with, Zoe,” Leo told her softly. “I’m just glad you’re interested in something that I was interested in a child.”
With a nod, Zoe decided that she would definitely be going. Her mother had always told her to “Try first, decide later,” which is exactly what she intended to do.
The thought of her mother reminded her of the dreadful dream and she remained quiet with her thoughts.
I must know what the dream means, she thought, Is it real. Is mom in trouble?
The answer would not be found any time soon.
The oldest man in town trod through Mortem Marsh, looking for a form of Icoja root that grew in that area of Hallowed Forest before the marsh took over. The gnarled tree that it grew from had luckily survived the advance of the marsh, but was constantly changing positions along the border of it. The root was normally used to alleviate arthritis pain, but Aldo had been experimenting with its ability to treat bronchitis and other lung related maladies. His current patient had been afflicted with a particularly nasty form of asthma. After years of visiting healer after healer, they had finally found a treatment, if not a cure, with Aldo Winter.
Aldo hurried along because he had promised the boy an improved treatment before the festivities. Azule, a will-o’-the-wisp, guided him along, its soft blue light just touching the soggy ground. In the marsh, wisps were the only safe way to navigate through the ever shifting marsh. A perfectly marked path would shift within hours, and no recognizable part of it would be left after a day. No landmark, no plant, no signs or indicators would remain in the same place long. Only one person that had gotten lost in the marsh was ever found, and he had been in a near voodoo-zombie-like state. Aldo continue to treat him, but had yet to make any breakthroughs.
The wisps showed up with the marsh, nearly years before. Initially the wisps were mischievous, leading townsfolk into bad and sometimes dangerous places within. Aldo’s daughter, Stacia, had been the one to magically communicate with them, assuring them that her people meant no harm. Instead of stopping their antics, the wisps had actually offered to switch gears entirely and guide people only to where they needed to be. That was one of Stacia Bloom’s first act’s as Magistra. To stop the marsh and deal with the wisps. But when she disappeared, a few of the wisps began returning to their old ways.
Azule and Aldo had long had a special relationship built on mutual respect and trust, so Aldo was never worried that Azule would lead him astray. There was no way to avoid the mud, though, so Aldo did his best to jump from one less soggy place to the next. Levitation had never been reliable in Mortem Marsh. Knowing that the marsh mud was very difficult to clean, even with magic, hadn’t stopped Aldo from foolishly wearing his white robe, he always wore. He counted himself lucky to have hired Marigold, however, as she had the only recipe known to break through the gunk. She had even begun selling it at Pritchard’s store. It was called Marigold Mix which was the only solution in town that worked against the marsh mud effectively.
Aldo paused as his senses told him that someone other than Marigold was in house.
“Azule, are we almost there?” he asked, hearing a bit of urgency in his voice. He didn’t like to hurry Azule, but he had an important duty to attend to.
The wisp bounced twice, its indication of a “yes” answer, slightly lowering Aldo’s stress level. Even at the ripe age of 135, he pace had never slowed from what he had as a teen. Sure, there were pops, soreness, and it took a moment to get his morning pep, but he was a sprightly young fellow of an old man.
A moment later, he caught sight of the tree. A moment after that, his foot caught on an unearthed root, sending him forward an extra step. He didn’t fall, but his wand shifted in his belt and toward the porridge-like marsh. As always, his reflexes were perfect. Before the wand hit the ground, he waved his hand to secure it again.
He knelt on a portion of branch that had fallen from the tree some years before. His put his gloves on, as before preparation, Icoja is poisonous. Herbalists were known for their sometimes extreme safety precautions, never taking the chance that their concoction would hurt someone. Aldo’s particular brew had taken one week to prepare, but had taken months before and after due to his careful testing.
Two roots was all he needed, and he took no more. Unprepared Icoja roots don’t last more than a few months. Into his enchanted pouch they went along with the gloves, then tied closed. He nearly unconsciously ticked each step off from the list in his head.
Satisfied, he turned to leave, but paused suddenly.
“Quiet for a moment please, Azule,” he said, holding a staying hand out near the wisp.
A far off clomping sound reaches his ears from deeper within the marsh.
Horses? he wonders. Azule trembled minutely. Horses never entered the marsh. Even Unicorns and Pegasia, known for their bravery, wouldn’t step one foot into it.
There weren’t many cloven beings in or around Moonlight Valley, but before Aldo could think about it any further, the wisp began moving in a rapid circular bouncing motion. He had only seen Azule alarmed once before, when a pack of bigger bogies had gotten too close to them.
“Let’s hurry!” Aldo exclaimed without hesitation. The wisp zipped away, then slowed it remembered that Aldo’s pace was much slower. Aldo pushed, struggling to keep up, and struggling to maintain sight on the bouncing and swerving creature.
I might be in real trouble here, he thinks. All he heard was the squishing sucking noises of his shoes fighting the mud. He would only find more mud and mystery.
Marigold eyed the clock in the kitchen and frowned.
“He should be back by now,” she said. Marigold had never trusted wisps. With her frown slightly deeper, she offered the Blooms a refills. They had switched to something new half an hour before, Zoe with cranberry juice, Leo with a glass of water containing ice. Both declined.
“Zoe, would you mind picking a few sprigs of Rumy for me?” she asked.
Zoe nodded and went out through the back door. On the second step the tip of her shoe folded under itself, tripping her. She caught herself on the banister before falling. She hated pointy shoes, but it was expected of her to wear them for the holiday. They always had a way of tripping her, especially in front of her fellow classmates that would further alienate her for being clumsy. She has been dubbed a “reject” in school. This does not bother her as much as one would be. She wants to be liked for who she was, not what she wore, or other shallow things.
“Gobbledygook!” she exclaimed. She had a splinter in her palm. The word was one of the few profanities allowed by her mother.
She reached the section of the garden that held herbs for cooking, but couldn’t figure out which plant was which. Plants and Inbetweens hadn’t been her strongest class, even though she was two years in. Conceding to defeat, she turned and returned to the back door.
Through the kitchen window, Zoe saw Marigold fluttering nervously (a fairy’s form of pacing) and gesturing wildly with her hands. Not much can get stout Marigold into a whirlwind, and Zoe didn’t take it lightly. Zoe couldn’t read lips, but she knew that Marigold was worried about Aldo. She paused with her ear near the window, trying to avoid awkwardly interrupting her.
“I’ve told him over and over to have an officer escort him into that dreadful marsh,” she nearly yells. “But no, ‘I can trust Azule’ he says!”
Leo held up a hand.
“Marigold, an hour late doesn’t mean that the wisp has gone bad. Maybe he’s picking something else?”
She shook her head and scoffed.
“No,” she said. “We have a deal. If he goes in that marsh, he comes straight home. Not just to scour those filthy robes, but to check in and let me know that he’s okay!”
“Okay, okay,” Leo said. “Let’s give him 20 more minutes. High Officer Verdelet will be up to his neck in work for Samhain anyway, so let’s make sure we really need him.”
Marigold mumbled something, fiddled with her necklace, then began wiping down the already clean counter surface. When Zoe saw that there was a lull in the conversation, she came back inside. Eavesdropping wasn’t a normal habit of Zoe’s, but she knew that adults tended to avoid more serious issues when children were within earshot.
“Marigold,” she said, pretending that she hadn’t heard their conversation. “What does Rumy look like again?”
“Green leaves, yellow stalk,” she replied. “But don’t worry about it, I’ll pick it later. Would either of you like something else to eat?”
Zoe shook her head and sat next to her father, who had also shaken his head. Within a few minutes, Zoe was tapping her fingers and her legs wouldn’t sit still. Waiting had never been a strength of hers.
“Dad, that dream isn’t going anywhere. I think I can wait until tonight to talk to him.”
“Well punkin,” he said. “Normally we’d head out if you wanted to, but your grandfather is late and we’re a little worried.”
“Late? What happened?” she asked, letting some of her worry creep into her voice.
“Don’t worry,” Marigold offered in a silky voice. “He’s probably sidetracked trying to pick some new little plant, or find a new wisp to replace that dreadful Azule.” She paused and rang out the dish towel. “Or maybe he finally lost his marbles, the old coot.”
Marigold’s attempts at humor weren’t swaying Zoe.
“So what are we going to do?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, Zoe,” her dad said, somewhat elusively. “We’ll get this taken care of.”
Zoe knew that they were hiding their anxiety, but she decided not to push it. Instead, she took the Kindle out of her backpack and picked up on the next book of her Zombie Fallout series. There is nothing better than Mike Talbot and B.T. to take her mind off of the outside world.
The three of them waited. And worried. Only time would tell what happened to Aldo.
Aldo’s running speed was taking a toll on the joints of his knees and ankles. The never tiring wisp was still bouncing in and out of his sight, constantly reminding Aldo of years past when such things like joint pain were unthinkable. For the third time, they passed a rotten log, half buried in the muck. It was a rock solid indication that they were either moments away from emerging into Aldo’s yard, or trapped in the marsh forever.
“Azule. Please, my friend,” he sputtered between breaths. “I need to rest.”
He saw the blue light instantly stop in front of him, although it still trembled in fear. Aldo could feel the fear from the wisp, like wave after wave of icy water splashing on the back of his neck.
The noise was farther away but still audible. Aldo was confused. He knew that four hooves made a certain echo, but he wasn’t hearing it. Then it came to him.
Satyrs. He realized. His breath caught in his throat. How did they get here?
As a healer, Aldo was always in the loop when it came to what was going on in town, but there had been no indication of the half man, half goat creatures being in the marsh or anywhere near Moonlight Valley. With Satyrs being an enemy of both white and black magic users, any sighting would have been immediately reported. The result could be anything from an emergency meeting of the Elders, up to sounding the alarm and putting the town on lock down.
He could taste the fear in the back of his throat. He couldn’t see them to be sure it was actually Satyrs, not even a torch, wisp, or silhouette. An inviting rock was nearby, showing Aldo a place to catch his breath and gather his thoughts.
“Azule,” he said quietly. “Stay vigilant and warn me if anything comes close.”
The ball bounced twice again, answering in the positive.
Aldo sat in the mud, leaned against the boulder, and closed his eyes. Within moments, his body went limp and a much less corporeal version of him stood, a blue light emanated from him, much dimmer but similar in appearance to the wisp’s. Aldo was astral projecting himself. It could take years or a lifetime to learn it yet he had known how at a young age.
Nearly paralyzed by fear, he leaned against the boulder and listened as the hoof beats grew louder. Slowly, he moved toward the noise, dashing from tree to rock to bush to stump, trying to catch a glimpse of what was causing it. Nothing visible was within sight, yet the hooves had increased to a thunderous volume. He narrowed the source of the sound down to a copse of trees so thick that he couldn’t see past them. Slowly, he moved to the trees. Just as he was about to break through, the sound stopped without warning. It didn’t taper off or quiet down, it simply stopped.
Aldo cautiously entered a small clearing past the trees, looking for any trace of what he had heard, but there was nothing. No tracks, no hairs, no droppings, nothing. It was enough for Aldo to briefly question himself, wondering if his mind had finally began showing signs of his old age. But Azule had reacted to it as well, so the thought was quickly cast away. Satyrs were to be feared, and any potential sighting (or hearing) needed to be reported right away. They were extremely magical and not everything was known about them. They were known to leave disaster in their wake, so something had to be done.
After an uneventful walk back to his body, he sat down and reconnected to himself, the blue glow fading to nothing. Muddy, weighed down, and exhausted, he thanked Azule and requested that they hurry home. He would have to check in with Marigold, then warn the Elders as soon as possible. The town needed this information. Now.
Zoe absently watched as Marigold kneaded another wad of dough. Contrary to the methods used by most magic users, Marigold enjoyed the process of traditional cooking from scratch. She had even branched out into some Outsider recipes that Leo had printed out for her. Her latest favorite was a creole spice that she had been experimenting with on eggs and macaroni and cheese.
The dough that she was currently mistreating was for Aldo’s favorite rolls; sour cream, garlic, and cheddar cheese. Aldo preferred the random shapes created from simply plopping the dough into a pan, but Marigold couldn’t stand by and watch her baking devolve into anarchy. Zoe had just discovered that she liked sour cream so she couldn’t wait to taste the rolls. The only thing was Zoe preferred Outsider brands. She frequently applied it to tacos and potatoes. The topping had been a big hit at the Beltane Feast earlier in the year, especially with the dishes prepared by a recent arrival to Moonlight Valley, a couple from Juarez, Mexico.
Marigold locked eyes with Leo, then looked at the clock. Zoe’s mood darkened slightly at still not being included in their concern.
“Okay, Marigold,” Leo said. “Go ahead and get your parchment. We’ll text the High Officer.”
Parchments were a form of communication used by most magic communities and acted similarly to texting with phones, hence the shorthand use of the word “texting” when referring to sending messages back and forth. Unfortunately they were only usable by magic users, so Leo had to rely on others to send and receive messages that way. He had a phone to partake of the communication.
Just as she was turning to retrieve it, Aldo burst into the back door, a whirlwind of sweat, mud, and heavy breathing. The robe and shoes that Marigold had made spotless the night before were almost completely covered in dark brown muck. Marigold’s surprise lasted half a breath before a scowl contorted her face.
“What happened to you?” she demanded. “You’re a mess! By the Goddess, this will take me days to clean!”
Aldo moved to the table, intending to sit, but Marigold placed a meaty and authoritative hand on his chest.
“Don’t you dare, Mr. Winter! You stand right there while I get a towel. Your robe is one thing, but I won’t have you destroying this chair as well.”
Moments later, towel draped over the chair, Aldo sat and put his face in his hands. Marigold realized that she was acting more like a maid than a friend, and drew a glass of water for him. In one swift move, Aldo emptied the glass and asked for a refill.
“Thank you,” he said as she handed him a refill with a sprig of mint in it. “I can’t get the sour mud taste out of my mouth.”
“Aldo, tell us what happened,” Leo requested. “We were about to get help we were so worried.”
They quietly listened while he related the story. The possibility of Satyrs in Moonlight Valley was a bit far fetched but he know what he heard.
“Those darn wisps!” Marigold exclaimed.
“What?” Aldo asked, momentarily confused. “No, Azule helped me. I wouldn’t have made it out of there without him!”
“If not him, then one of the others!” she said, one hand on her hip and the other jabbing a pointed finger toward Aldo. “They can’t help tricking everyone that has the misfortune of finding one.”
“Enough, Marigold,” he said, irritation seeping into his voice. Aldo possessed great patience, and would normally be amused, but Marigold’s stubborn distrust of wisps could be taxing. “There were no others.”
“Mark my words, Aldo Winters. Those wisps should be banished!”
With that, she resumed her dough kneading and Aldo sighed, relieved that the fairy had ceased despairing the creatures that he knew as friends. A moment later he shuddered minutely at the thought of the Satyrs.
After a few minutes of companionable silence, Aldo took his pipe and tobacco from his pouch. After a few puffs, he heard Zoe sigh.
“Granddaughter,” he said warmly. “What troubles you?”
Her suddenly watery eyes looked into his as she was trying to put into words what she was feeling.
“It was another nightmare, gramps,” she said as the first tear slid down her cheek. “About mom.”
“Oh, now there, sweetheart,” he said, standing up to hug her,”I will go get cleaned up first then we will figure things out.”
Leo comforted Zoe while Aldo kicked off his shoes near the door.
Marigold retreated through Aldo’s bedroom to his private bathroom to draw him a bath. They could hear her muttering the whole way about how long it would take her to get everything cleaned.
Aldo thought of Zoe as he followed Marigold’s path a few moments later. She truly was special. Her mother, Stacia, had suspected that she was important, that she would one day have a momentous effect on their lives. With the help of various mediums in the town, Aldo had only been able to confirm the vague statement at face value. They were never able to see more details. Stacia had wanted to be the one to tell her child when the time was right, and Aldo, always hopeful that his daughter would some day return, honored the desire.
A sigh escaped him as his thoughts shifted from his granddaughter to his missing daughter. There were no clues to how Stacia had disappeared. It was an ongoing case.
The tears trickled from Zoe’s eyes onto her father’s shirt. It didn’t always solve everything, but her father’s warm embrace had seen Zoe through every high and low, every loss and victory, every difficulty, that life had thrown at her.
“Dad, she’s in trouble. I can feel it.”
Leo kissed her forehead.
“If she is, we’ve got some great magic around here that we can count on,” he said.
She dried her eyes on his shoulder, then pulled away to face him.
“Dad, I can’t control my power, you don’t have any powers, and gramps hasn’t even been able to find her!”
“Punkin,” he said, lightly tapping her nose with his index finger. “We have a whole town of magical folk ready to help. Everyone loves your mother, and they’d do anything to get her back.”
“I know, but…”
She paused with a finger on her pursed lips, then her eyes opened wide.
“What if it’s a clue? Do you think gramps can, I don’t know, decipher it or whatever?”
“If anyone can do it, Aldo can,” he replied with confidence. “Every day has the potential to bring new hope.”
Satisfied for the moment, Zoe asked her father to tell her about his Halloween experiences again. As he went on, she calmed. Her eyes were no longer red when Aldo re-entered the kitchen. His long hair was dry and combed straight and he was wearing a fresh white robe.
Feeling his normal self again, he focused on Zoe.
“Zoe, would you mind if we moved this conversation into my study?” he asked.
She stood, then looked at her father.
“Do you want me to go with you?” Leo asked. When it came to more sensitive matters of magic, she preferred to deal with her grandfather one on one, but he still offered his company from time to time.
“No, dad. I can do this.”
“I’ll fetch some tea for you two,” Marigold said, grabbing the kettle.
“No. Thank you, Marigold,” Aldo said. “I’d rather we not be disturbed, but if you’ll have some ready when we finish, that would be excellent.”
Marigold nodded. Zoe took her grandfather’s hand as they moved to the study. Leo continued using his butt to hold his chair down.
Zoe watched as Aldo touched a pentagram on the door at the end of a small hallway. It glowed white, allowing access to room beyond. Had Zoe or anyone else touched the charm, it would have remained inactive, blocking access to the study with a sturdy magical protection.
It was the largest room in the house, containing every scrap of Aldo’s life of research. The far wall had a full length work space and racks of empty glass containers. To the left of that was a large roll top desk surrounded by floor to ceiling shelves crammed full of books. They had been built around two stained glass windows to either side of the desk. On the wall opposite the desk, more floor to ceiling shelves covered the entire space. Every available space was crammed with pouches, bottles, boxes, containers of every kind, each containing a different ingredient for Aldo’s various projects. Beneath them was a basement containing an even larger collection of books and ingredients, and general storage. Leading to that was a trap door hidden near his desk.
The smell of wood smoke was a constant, as nestled in the work space was an enchanted stove that kept the room at just the right temperature throughout the year. Aldo’s pipe smoke added to the comforting smells as he settled into his desk chair and Zoe seated herself in the familiar arm chair nearby. He blew a few smoke rings that lazily collided with one another. He winked at Zoe, knowing that his smoke tricks amused her.
“Now,” he said, putting his pipe on the desk and intertwining his fingers. “Tell me everything that you remember.”
Zoe saw no reason to delay the inevitable, so she recounted the nightmare. By the end she was trembling and nearly in tears again.
“That’s all I remember, except the endless fall at the end.”
“Hmm,” Aldo said, looking at the ceiling before continuing. “I don’t see anything of significance. Are you sure that that’s all? No other details?”
“Nothing,” she said, frowning. “Sorry, gramps.”
“Don’t fret, my dear. We can try some mind to mind communication, if you’d like,” he offered. Onieromancy, a form of divination through dream interpretation, had been one of Aldo’s best subjects at Paragon Academy of Magic, the same school that Zoe was currently attending. It was a good thing for a healer to know to help patients plagued by dreams and nightmares, along with proper potions.
“Ignis,” he said, and waved his wand at four candles floating in each corner. Each lit at once. Another wave of his wand turned the windows a dark, charcoal black, blocking the daylight. He pulled a desk drawer open, revealing a phonograph. A moment later, soft instrumental Celtic music filled the room. Mind to Mind, as it was easily referred to, was best practiced in the most relaxing environment possible.
Aldo cleared his throat and sat back down.
“Palms on the desk, please.” His voice was silky, drawn out, flowing through the room like his pipe smoke.
She scooted the chair forward and placed her hands on the desk, palms up. She was familiar with the basics of the procedure, having began studying it in Divination.
“Have you been practicing?” he asked.
“Only with dad, but it never works. You and him are the only ones I trust with this.”
“Well, there’s plenty of time to learn,” he said with a gentle smile. He didn’t want to push the issue and cause her any stress before the procedure. Zoe didn’t know what she wanted to do in life but she did admire Aldo for being a healer, though she had no interest in becoming one herself.
His leaned forward and put his hands on hers.
“Alright,” he said quietly. “Focus on what you can, especially what you were feeling. Relax and open up.”
He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, there was nothing. He listened and heard nothing. No smell registered, no signal of touch moved from his foot to his brain. His mind was ready to receive her thoughts and feelings.
Slowly, a pin point of purple light began swirling and growing in front of him. A rough shape at the edges of his vision didn’t quite materialize, but it appeared to be the interior of the cave. The sound of thunder crashed in his ears, momentarily disorienting him. Before he could recover, Zoe’s nightmare emotions exploded in his mind. Fearful panic was the strongest, and nearly severed their link. Aldo’s years of practice kicked in, steeling his defenses. Unfortunately there was nothing else to see. The cave had rushed away, replaced by an endless rocky cliff wall, signaling the fall, then end, of her nightmare. Just as their connection severed, the crash of a wave rang in his ears.
“You can open your eyes,”he said.
His voice came to her from a distance as she returned from a state of wakeful sleep. Aldo waited patiently as her eyes fluttered open.
“Did you get any clues, gramps?” she asked with renewed hope.
“I saw the cave. I’ve never seen a crystal cave that glowed purple, so that’s something to look into.” He paused. The sound of the wave had piqued his curiosity. Normally when a dream concluded with a seemingly endless fall, there was, by definition, no bottom.
“Did you have the sense of being near an ocean?” he asked.
“I don’t remember,” she said. She lowered her face into her hands and sobbed once, quietly. “I’m failing her, I know it. This dream is a message and I can’t understand it!”
“Zoe Bloom,” Aldo said firmly. “You look at your grandfather right now.”
She sniffled once and looked up into his eyes. She could feel the concern in his voice.
“This is not your fault. In two months you’ll come into your born right power, and things might make more sense.”
She smiled slightly, then frowned.
“But…this is a message, right?” she asked.
“I didn’t get that feeling. To be honest, it felt more like the beginning of a vision.” He paused to re-light his pipe. “This could be a good thing. You may be getting The Sight. It took your mother years to develop it after turning 13 and here you are, already showing signs.”
“I want to have it now,” she said, pouting.
“Be patient, Zoe. Her disappearance may not have been foul play. She may have been called off on some quest or another that required her immediate departure. Sometimes strange are the ways of magic.”
And it was true. Aldo himself, with a two year old Stacia in tow, had been called to quest of such importance that he didn’t even have time to leave a note. They had been gone for three years and weren’t able to contact anyone in Moonlight Valley.
“Thanks gramps. I know you tried,”said Zoe.
“The answer will come one day.”
“I hope it’s soon.”
Aldo said nothing. He didn’t have a feeling regarding his daughter’s whereabouts either way.
“I love you gramps,”said Zoe.
“I love you too.”
A bit later, Aldo closed the door behind Leo and Zoe. Worry etched his face. He didn’t like the idea of such a young witch going outside of the barrier, but Leo had insisted that he’d keep her safe.
The Satyrs returned to his thoughts. They were a threat to Moonlight Valley, and by extension its special child, Zoe Bloom. The issue needed to be addressed right away. Aldo would see to it.
The young witch admired her costume in the full length mirror. She wore matte black vinyl pants, top, and gloves. Looped around the pants was a pink belt with the initials HG stamped into the buckle. It held up a black and purple plaid skirt. A black, purple lined cape ran the full length of her body, touching the tops of her ankle length black combat boots. The wig she wore was the same purple as the streaks in her hair but much shorter. Just past her chin. To complete the ensemble, a black mask covered her eyes, making her feel mysterious.
The costume was that of Hit Girl, the lead character in a move Zoe and her father both enjoyed called Kick Ass. Naturally, her father was dressed as Big Daddy, the armored Batman like father of Hit Girl. It was a fun but ironic getup for them, considering that neither had held a weapon or even been in a physical confrontation. Even the weapons they carried were quite obviously fake.
She was glad that she would never have to use a firearm. They were much too loud and cumbersome, especially when compared to the wand that she’d be receiving in two months.
Her thoughts returned to Halloween, or rather the parts that she found confusing. She understood the garish lights and decorations, but not the pumpkins. For her, they had always been a symbol of the fall harvest, to be used for decoration, then used for food after. Outsiders frequently wasted the delicious fruit.
There was also the matter of children essentially dressing up as monsters and threatening to play tricks on people that didn’t provide them with sugary morsels. It had taken much explanation, including visual aids courtesy of YouTube, to assure her that Trick or Treating was a completely innocent celebration similar in many ways to their own.
A shrill ring erupted from her cell phone, an alarm indicating that it was time to go. It was a 40 minute drive to Salem and she didn’t want to be late.
“Dad, it’s time!” she yelled as she walked down the hall to his room. She knocked twice. “Dad, are you ready?”
“Just a second, punkin,” he called as he rummaged through a drawer looking for his wife’s sewing kit. “A button popped off my cape.”
“Just let me do it, dad,” she said through the door. Her mother had taught her how to mend clothing with magic many years prior, but Leo still did things the old fashioned way when he could.
“Okay,” he replied. “I’ll be down in a minute, I’m just tying my boots.”
She went downstairs waited on the couch, nervously fumbling with the plastic pumpkin she planned on keeping her candy in. A few minutes later he came down, a picture perfect representation of Big Daddy. A huge smile betrayed the menacing look of the costume.
“I love these boots!” she exclaimed as she stomped around the living room. “They’re much better than my sneakers.”
“Whatever you want, punkin,” he said as he handed her his cape.
She happily clomped over and took the cape. After putting the button in place, a simple wave of her hand mended it and she handed it back. He took it and kissed her on the forehead.
“How about a selfie to mark the occasion?” Leo asked.
Zoe smiled at her father’s attempt to use the comical millennial word. Using her phone, they posed for a quick shot, angled from slightly overhead to show most of their costumes.
“I’m going to take so many pictures!” she exclaimed.
“Why don’t you enjoy yourself and let me? I’ll get some video too,” Leo suggested. Zoe nodded.
“Should I bring my back pack?” she asked. “I don’t have anywhere to put my parchment.”
“Best to leave it here,” he replied. “It wouldn’t be a good idea to text on the outside. Besides, we’ll only be gone for a few hours.”
He took his keys from a hook near the door and checked them both over one last time. Satisfied that their costumes were complete and they needed nothing else from the house, they went to the garage and got in Leo’s car. He was one of the few vehicle owners in Moonlight Valley. Being non magical, he was one of the few that couldn’t blink, fly a broom, dash, or otherwise make his way from point A to point B without using his legs or mechanical transportation. And so, being a teacher in Salem, a cheap, economical 1997 Ford Taurus, silver, was his preferred method of locomotion.
The garage door trundled up the tracks then stopped mid way. It had been acting up for years, but calling a repairman in a magical town wasn’t exactly an option. With Leo’s limited time and repair skills, it had been put on a back burner. With another push of the button, it raised the rest of the way.
The garage door forgotten, Leo slowed at the end of the driveway. Since cars are limited in Moonlight Valley there is no need for asphalt. The streets are made of gravel. It was easier on the hoofs of the horses, unicorns and Pegasi (when decided to walk instead of fly.) Leo pulled onto this kind of street then habitually, he checked for traffic. Two other residents drove, but he rarely saw them. There was the occasional equine traffic, brooms, and pedestrians, however.
No obstructions were in view, magical or otherwise, so Leo turned and headed toward the only exit to the Outside world where Zoe will discover something new about herself.
The Necromancer slipped into an alleyway, away from the prying eyes of the Moonlight Valley do-gooders. If anyone closely inspected him, they would recognize the black magic warlock and banish him outright.
He was no stranger to banishment, having been banished years ago from the black magic town that he had been raised in. His betrayal of Regina Vexx, a fellow town resident and practitioner of black magic, was too big of a crime to go unpunished. Just thinking of the name caused a rush of anger at his failure.
Regina was a black magic witch, the same age as The Necromancer, knowledgeable in many of the arts of black magic, and she had an insatiable thirst for power, wealth, and authority. From an early age, she had set her sights on the most powerful witch anyone had seen in the last 300 years. The white magic witch also happened to hold the highest level of authority in a nearby white magic town.
Years before, Regina concluded that she needed a level of power granted only by a demon. As demons can only communicate with a necromancer, her path led her to The Necromancer, who she had befriended (only for getting him to serve him without payment) and eventually deemed trustworthy enough to share her plan with. His intrigue got the better of him, and he knew just the right higher level demon to summon: Belphagor.
One wintry evening, they met in a nearby field of giants and performed the ritual. Regina had expected fire and brimstone, anger and yelling. Instead, a human-like being stepped forward. He had blonde hair, piercing yellow eyes, a muscular build, and beautiful white wings. He radiated a glow that warmed The Necromancer and Regina.
“I greet you, Necromancer,” Belphagor said,”I will serve you if I choose to.”
“Greetings, Belphagor,” The Necromancer said. Demons were busy creatures and typically despised time wasting practices like lengthy greetings, bowing, and unpronounceable titles. Knowing this, The Necromancer got straight to the point.
“My companion, Regina Vexx, has need of your services.”
“Very well,” Belphagor said. He eyed the witch, noting her cruel beauty, and determined that she was worthy of his time. “Step forward and speak, Regina Vexx.”
She took two steps, cleared her throat, and began.
“I seek the power required to become the most successful High Priestess ever known. I also want to fight a powerful white witch. I implore you to grant me things things. Please, serve me.”
At the word “please,” The Necromancer winced. He thought everyone knew that saying that word to a demon was considered by them to be insulting, a sign of weakness and subservience. Saying it was enough for a demon to withdraw their offers.
The demon turned to him.
“No, no. I do not like this woman. I will not serve her.”
“What?” Regina exclaimed angrily. “You don’t like me? What does that have to do with anything?”
She pointed at The Necromancer.
“You! Make him!”
The Necromancer held up his hands and explained the faux pa to her. If a demon decided that he wasn’t going to offer his assistance, it was probably because the person had said the dreaded word. She calmed slightly, but her face remained red and her hands remained clenched. He turned back to the demon and tried to salvage the situation.
“Belphagor, what is your favorite color?” The Necromancer asked.
The question caught him off guard, but he immediately became more relaxed. Belphagor didn’t like idle conversation but he did enjoy talking about himself on occasion.
“I suppose it would have to be yellow,” he said after thinking a moment. “It is the color of my eyes as well as a beautiful part of the flame.”
“I see. And your wings, do you enjoy flying?”
The demon nodded and rolled his fingers in a “go on” motion. The two spent the next ten minutes discussing random subjects that focused on Belphagor, long enough that The Necromancer felt like he’d be more open to granting his service. Regina spent the entire time glaring, tapping her foot, and sighing with impatience.
“I can say that I like you, Necromancer,” the demon said with a smile. “I will serve you.”
The Necromancer looked at Regina.
“Well go on. Command him to serve me. I will not say the P word for it,”insisted Regina.
The Necromancer could feel that she was destined for power, and she would make a good ally. Unfortunately, she’d have to wait. He faced the demon.
“Grant me the gift to make any demon unable to refuse me.”
Regina looked at them both, waiting for the Necromancer to continue, but he didn’t.
“Tell him the rest!” she said angrily. “Help me!”
“Regina,” the Necromancer said through gritted teeth. “He doesn’t like you. I explained this. If he doesn’t like you, he won’t help. The summoning isn’t enough to obligate a demon to help.”
Belphagor interrupted them.
“Necromancer, place a coin at the foot of your bed every night until the next new moon. At that time, if each coin was missing when you woke, you will be granted your power. Will that do?”
The demon held his hand out and The Necromancer shook it. A few sparks popped from the ground around the demon’s feet. They released their handshake and Belphagor disappeared into the ground.
Regina flew into a rage, but was quickly calmed by The Necromancer.
“Regina, think,” he said as he grabbed her by the shoulders. “With this power, I can force a demon to do your bidding. I promise, once I am in control, you will have everything you desire.”
“You have promised so you better deliver,” she said.
When the new moon broke, Regina went immediately to The Necromancer and demanded that he fulfill his promise, but he had refused. The witch was pushy, overly ambitious, and he hadn’t had time for it. Before leaving, she had vowed revenge.
“I will remember this betrayal. Always. Mark my words, you will be nothing in this city within a year.”
Six months later she had been inexplicably appointed to High Priestess, a position she would hold for life, and the revenge came quickly. The Necromancer had been brought before the council and banished from all black magic towns, another life long commitment. He had attempted to fight, but was bound, gagged, and ejected from the town by security officers.
The memories of his town, of all magic towns, had been erased from his memories. For years he had wandered, unable to find a place to call home. Luckily, his power had allowed him to summon various demons, working his way along until he found just the right one.
Tonight, it would not be a demon he would summon but would be chaos upon Moonlight Valley.
Big Daddy, also known as Leo Bloom, parked his Taurus in the faculty lot of North Salem High School. He had started teaching there fourteen years before, three months after marrying Stacia Winter. There was, unfortunately, no room for non-magical teachers at Paragon Academy of Magic. Teachers were required to be able to help the students with their various magic and magic related difficulties. He hadn’t been particularly bothered, knowing that his knowledge of art would better help Outsider children.
He hoped to one day work as a comic book artist alongside his teaching career. Being a full time artist was what he always had wanted to be become. Family had taken that dream’s place for now. He was working toward it right now. Leo planned to submit his work to a writer in Georgia in November, combining their takes of a super mutant zombie apocalypse. What Leo lacked in magic ability, he made up for in creativity. And while his wallet wasn’t exactly overloading with Outsider or magic community money, his goal had nothing to do with finances. He had long been a subscriber to the “you can’t buy happiness” mantra.
“Glad we don’t need the GPS,” Leo said.
They are on their way to Shade Street where one of his favorite students recommended they begin and happens to live on. Leo’s few trips away from Moonlight Valley and Salem were stressful, particularly in Portland. There was constant traffic and odd road layouts, not to mention his lack of familiarity with the streets themselves.
While her father was relaxed and enjoying the walk, Zoe looked around nervously. She had only had a satellite image to prepare herself with. It was no good. There was traffic, cars like her father’s but not, lining both sides of the road. Some were parked while others passed by randomly honking horns or screeching their brakes. Children dashed here and there with the occasional parent dotted in. Although it was all initially very overwhelming, Zoe quickly adapted.
She had only been out of town on three occasions. The first, when she was two, her mother had taken her to see an animation at a nearby theater. She had been enthralled with the animals.
“Animals! Talk! No magic!” she had yelled, much to her mother’s surprise.
The outburst had made Stacia weary of bringing her young witch daughter to The Outside, instead treating her to the Moonlight Valley theater, where such antics were tolerated.
When Zoe was four and a half, six months shy of beginning her home schooling, her parents had taken her to a carnival in Eugene. When they had entered the line for the Ferris wheel, Zoe’s cotton candy was the soft, bubblegum pink for which it is known. At the half way mark, it was purple. At the end of the line, it was bright, sky blue. Her parents had only been alerted when they overheard two children asking their parents if they could get color changing cotton candy as well.
Many years of Moonlight Valley sheltered life later, she had finally convinced Leo to take her to a store called Hot Topic. The Cheeky Witch, the only local clothing store, didn’t cater to Zoe’s more modern Outsider styles. Her father had agreed to take her to a mall in Salem if she promised to keep her powers under control. Everything had gone fine until they decided to get order lunch at Panda Express in the food court. Zoe’s frustration at the use of chopsticks had caused them to fly out of her hand twice, causing at least two people to look in their direction curiously. They had slipped away quietly and agreed that Zoe should take her shopping online.
The handle of her plastic pumpkin was moist with sweat and her heart rate picked up a few beats. She took two deep breaths and calmed. The sun was nearly set, casting long, dark shadows. The street lamps were beginning to turn on, illuminating the asphalt and concrete that is so alien to Zoe. Cobblestone was all she was used to. The combat boots helped her stay steady on the foreign surface, especially since Aldo had taught her the ability to perfectly re-size any footwear.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Leo said, looking down at her. Her nervousness was obvious.
She jumped slightly as his voice startled her out of her memories.
“Is that a penny each?” she asked with a smile.
“Well now, let me see,” he said, digging in his pocket then producing three Outsider pennies. “I’ll take three, please.”
She took a moment to respond, looking at the fellow children slowly gathering in number.
“I stick out, dad,” she said. “I’m a real witch dressed as a hero that’s just a girl in a costume. It’s weird.”
“Look around, kiddo,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Just have fun, nobody is watching!”
Zoe took another breath, and put on her best not-fake-looking smile.
“I’ll take a penny now,” she said to Leo.
He reached into another pocket and produced a special coin purse. From it he took a silver half dollar with a unicorn imprinted on it, then gave it to Zoe.
“There,” he said with a smile. “I’m paid for the night.”
“I don’t think this is going to cover it,” she said with a laugh as she put the coin in the pumpkin.
The happiness faded a minute later, chased away by her returning nervousness. She hoped that the lights would turn on faster. Being stuck outside, in an Outsider town, with no light would push her to panic.
Just ahead she sees the sign for Shade street.
You can do this, she thought, then took another deep breath. I hope.
Zoe would find it was more than expected.
The Necromancer made his way swiftly through the marsh. Although Mortem Marsh shared the same protected space of the town, the sky was never blue. The marsh’s sour enchantment made it appear constantly on the verge of rain. For the average person, the air was still and stale, with the occasional rotten egg smell that the marsh bubbles expelled. Shorter creatures, such as elves, had to deal with the additional stench of rotting vegetation that clung closer to the ground.
The mud ranged in color, mostly browns and greens and blacks. Lighter brown normally indicated quick mud that would render the victim motionless, doomed to suspended animation just under the surface until rescued.
The Necromancer’s destination was known only by word of mouth. It had existed even before the marsh, only then being known by locals as a place to avoid. After the marsh, stories of the place had caused many to go searching for it, causing many rescues. In an effort to prevent further lost individuals, the Magister and Magistra had approved a plan from the Security Force to remove the location from all known maps, a practice that continued to that day. He had been lucky enough to strike a bond with a wisp, one of the few that still knew how to get there.
He reviewed the ritual in his head for the thousandth time and checked the time. The ritual needed to be done during the waxing moon and at 1AM. This will conclude the official ceremony taking place at Misty Pines Cemetery. Although the Necromancer was very well known in the town, his presence wouldn’t be missed at the festival that evening. The Necromancer visited no spirits in the cemetery, regardless of the holiday.
A black, hooded robe flapped open occasionally, revealing a dark black-brown wand that had been hidden in the mouth of a living boulder. The hood covered his face, the robe went to the tops of his square tipped shoes (mud less, thanks to his levitation ability,) and gloves covered his hands. The outfit was nondescript and revealed no clue to the user’s intentions, having been crafted and enchanted by a wandering black magic tailor. The tailor had initially refused The Necromancer as a customer. It seemed that news of his banishment had quickly traveled. When The Necromancer revealed how much he was willing to pay, the tailor’s greed tipped the scale from his loyalty.
The Necromancer had succeeded in getting all his black magic items into town by enchanting the security elves with a sleep spell. It normally would not work but he had a brief flash of power that allowed him to succeed. He has everything he needs within the borders of Moonlight Valley.
The wisp, named Ash seems to only come to the Necromancer. He is a dangerous wisp but his guidance is necessary. Ash, was in a rush to be rid of the man and return to his trickery in the marsh. It was bound to the Necromancer, but was free to roam when he wasn’t needed. There was no love or loyalty between the two, the wisp merely complied because it had been promised its freedom after 50 years of servitude. Ash has only served ten years so far.
The Necromancer is exempt of quick mud, as well as the limitation of others not being able to levitate over the marsh mud. He has a secret deal with the Keeper of the Marsh regarding that and other things. No one else knows about the Keeper of the Marsh. The Necromancer will not tell the secret, ever.
After an hour of following the wisp, The Necromancer finally arrived at the ritual site. Tonight he would summon a spirit from the Void. That could only be done by a Necromancer. Spirits from the Afterworld can be summoned by both magic but it takes many years of trying to bring the actual being all the way back. The process of summoning beings from The Void was complicated and required deep knowledge unique to necromancy. Fortunately for him, he was in his third degree of necromancy. Combined with his ability to request anything from a demon without fear of refusal, nothing was going to prevent him from getting what he wanted.
From the spirit he is going to summon he will learn a forbidden curse. Once he has wanted for many years. It is the Meordusax, or the killing curse. He knows he will need great power before he can learn the curse. He doesn’t know if the ghost he is summoning will have that power but if Zoe Bloom turns out like her mother then he will take it from her.
A tangible revenge is also making her a target. The Necromancer was given a ritual to begin the marsh long ago. It made the mud grow and grow taking up part of the town. It could not be stopped at first as he planned, however Stacia Bloom found a way to thwart his plan. She stopped the marsh at it’s current border. The Necromancer knew he would be sought. When Stacia left he made sure to send a ghost to Regina Vexx to tell them where she was going as he knew from passing conversation. Since Stacia never returned he knew his plan had worked. He remained unknown.
All that passed through his mind in seconds.
Focus on tonight, he thought.
The Necromancer focused on where he was going. The Mortem Marsh doesn’t leave any telltale signs that someone has been there. The marsh can erase things like footprints and disturbances in the vegetation. He must do everything to avoid a citizen. It would not do well to be discovered. He must be on target to summon. Unleash. Achieve. Succeed.
Now he was almost at the marker. He would have all the privacy he needs in the lost area. Other wisp’s can pick up on Ash’s presence but the wisp is careful to do a complicated route to get to the destination.
The ritual would not be performed for hours, but he must take the supplies there. The needed material is very specific. He has spent hours collecting them from secret places all over town. It is difficult to maneuver in a town where someone is always awake. Much magic depends on moonlight, so there is never a time when someone is really alone. The Necromancer has sneaked, lied, and occasionally enchanted to get everything.
He saw the mound where he had kept everything buried for two days. The marsh would normally swallow it, but the deal with the Keeper ensured that it will be there. He came to the hill of dirt. It was dry. He located the two twigs he set in a way that wasn’t obvious and ordered Ash to dig. Will-o-wisps cannot lift or carry things well, but they can burrow.
Ash dove into dirt and pushed it up. A perfect circle was created. The Necromancer waved his wand and lifted the bags from the hole. He said a cleaning spell, then took it and walked to the marker. He would set the items there, for the Keeper cannot guarantee the sour ground around the marker. Nothing should be placed there for long.
The Necromancer gritted his teeth. He disliked the feel of the small area around the marker. There was no spell that could take away the feeling of dread that overtakes anyone who spends too much time there. He prepared himself mentally. He must be strong.
This has to work, he thought. I cannot spend the rest of my life pretending to be a white magic warlock. That will not do.
His determination would prove fruitful.
Alright, Zoe, she thought. This is it.
“Ready, punkin?” Leo asked. He was ready to take her home if he had to, but it was an important memory that he wanted to pass on to Zoe.
“Stop hovering, dad,” she whispered. Whenever he hovered, she felt like he didn’t trust her. It was important to her that their trust be solid before she turned thirteen. There is already a small rift between them since he can’t understand magic. Neither want the gap to widen so things are put in place to ensure it doesn’t. Their trick or treating would be a way to further solidify that trust.
She took a deep breath, nodded to her father, and began walking. Zoe and Leo turned the corner and admired the decorations. A few steps later, Leo realized that he had left Zoe behind. He turned around and couldn’t help the broad smile that spread across his face.
Zoe stood in the middle of the sidewalk, a crisscross flow of costumed children passing around her on both sides. Her eyes were wide and full of twinkling lights, purple, green, orange. Her mouth hung wide, but not so wide as to hide her smile. Every light at every house seems to be lit.
“Welcome to Halloween,” Leo said, then patiently waited for her wonder to subside.
There is a gleam in Zoe’s green eyes. This is a residential area unlike any she has seen before. The sun has set so she can’t individualize the decorations but she knows they are everywhere. The sight of so many cars parked in drives or on the streets is also a sight. There are some going up and down but there are no honking, revving or engines or anything that is shocking. There are children of all ages with people also dressed.
This is wonderful, she thought.
“Punkin do you want to find a less busy street?” asked Leo.
“No, dad. Now that I’m seeing it for myself I want to do it. Right here. As long as we can,”said Zoe the mock hero tonight.
“Anything you want,”said Leo.
She gathered herself, grabbed her father’s hand, and led him up the street. Most of the costumes are completely unknown to Zoe, but she recognized a few bad attempts at dressing like witches and a character from her favorite anime. The tattered robes, pointed hats, and mismatched footwear was far from typical for her own wardrobe.
Hand in hand, they approached the first house. It is a two story likes hers with orange lights lining the porch. There are three different jack o lanterns with different faces. All look amusing though she believes they are meant to be scary. She still thinks it’s a waste of pumpkins but she will put that aside for the night.
I am going to be part of the Outside world tonight, she thought.
The house has a wood sign that says “Candy Stop” but nothing else. She understands they will be passing out candy. Zoe decided she wanted to be alone for the first one. She waited for other kids to get their candy. She decided having her father with her wouldn’t count.
“Dad is it ok if you go with me? Or is that wrong?”asked Zoe,”I forgot what parents do.”
“We do whatever the child wants,”said Leo,”I will stay by your side unless you ask otherwise. Deal?”
She nodded then said,”I think I will need you for this one. I will try some alone once I feel I won’t screw it up.”
Leo wanted to comfort her and tell her she couldn’t possibly “screw it up” but he doesn’t want to push the issue.
“Since we are a duo in the movie it might be nice to be seen together,”said Leo.
“Ya, that makes sense,”said Zoe then she approached the door,”So the glowing circle by the door is the doorbell right?”
“Yes, just push it,”instructed Leo.
“It won’t announce us right?” asked Zoe feeling a bit nervous like she was about to push a button that would set off a nuclear explosion.
“No there will just be a chime of some sort,”explained Leo.
“Alright, dad. Here we go,”she said with enthusiasm.
Zoe heard the unfamiliar two toned ring, then steps coming toward the door. A teenage girl opened the door and smiled.
“Trick… or treat?” Zoe asked. Leo stifled a laugh as the teenager looked at her oddly for a moment before choosing the second option.
“Thank you!” Zoe yelled over her shoulder after Leo poked her with his elbow. They reached the end of the driveway and Zoe stopped to evaluate her first bounty. The first is a soft, wrapped in blue and white waxed paper.
“What’s this?” she asked her father.
“Just try it,” Leo replied. He happily watched as she unwrapped the treat and plopped it in her mouth.
“That’s Teeth Feet,” she said with a confused look on her face. “I thought I was going to get Outsider candy tonight?”
“It is, but here it’s called ‘taffy.’ Candy can be the same whether if it’s from the Outsider or not but you should find different things. We can go through it when we are done.”
Zoe groaned and sagged her shoulders in mock exhaustion. A few paces later, a loud pop sounded from behind them, causing Zoe to jump, which resulted in her bumping into another child.
“Hey!” a small voice exclaimed. The boy was dressed as a goblin, and reasonably well. His mask looked like Mr. Ottoman, the goblin farmer across the street from her house. The mask looked like him on a bad day, which was more plentiful than his good days; green with a bulbous nose and a few warts.
“Sorry,” she said, then pointed at where she heard the noise. “What was that?”
“Just a pop,” the boy said. He showed her the box that had previously contained small paper wrapped wads of gunpowder. It was very similar to the firecrackers available in Moonlight Valley. “All out, sorry. Nice costume though. You’re Hit Girl, right?”
She nodded happily.
“And this is Big Daddy,” Zoe said, pointing at her father.
“Do you want to come with us?” the pirate asked. “We live one street over, so everyone around here gives us extra candy.”
She looked to Leo for permission. He nodded in approval.
“Sweet! My mom’s over here,” the boy said. Zoe was sure he was smiling somewhere under the mask. “That’s my brother, the Minion in the stroller. This princess is my sister.”
Leo who saw who he was referring to. A tall young woman with a child in a stroller who was in the yellow costume. Zoe didn’t understand the reference, but the pill shaped yellow costume amused her. Leo and pirate-boy’s mother greeted, then the five moved down the sidewalk to the next house. A happy silence fell between them as they admired the decorations on the way.
Zoe doesn’t know what to say to the kids. She knows the polite thing to do is introduce herself yet the pirate made not attempt at it so she didn’t initiate. She really wants to fit in so she decided to let the children lead. She felt this was the best policy right now.
The pirate took the lead up the walkway then rang the bell. It was a harsh buzzer, much less pleasant than the previous house. An old man with a candy corn decorated cane opened the door. Straw pushed through the various holes and opening of his scarecrow costume. It reminded her of the farm scarecrows she saw on her walks to school. She doesn’t like them.
“Trick or treat!” the pirate cries. “Smell my feet! Give me something good to eat!”
Everyone laughed. Even the old man. Zoe did not. She pictured herself actually having to allow the man to smell her feet. At first it was an awful idea but then she saw the joke in it. She chuckled to herself in the after thought.
“Oh Tim, that never gets old,” the old main said. Zoe momentarily forgot the protocol, but held out her basket as he dropped a handful of colorful spheres in it.
“Come on, Hit Girl!” Tim yelled from halfway down the walkway.
It’s fun just being a kid right now, thought Zoe, No magic is alright for few hours.
“The next house is the Go’s. They give out chocolate.” His grin was contagious.
“I can dig that,” she said, using some of the Outsider slang she had read about at school.
Her father said something about the third house, but she didn’t hear. She was already approaching it. A ghost hung in the doorway, a graveyard had been assembled in the yard, and bats hung from a tree.
Zoe turned and saw her father waving her on. She returned a thumbs up, then stepped toward the door. Here she will meet her first real obstacle of the night.
“Sorry, Mrs. Lurchen.”
Aldo pulled the last pin from her lower back. She tended to strain it during the holiday seasons, when her job as a waitress required her to carry more and heavier dishes. He treated her with a mixture of alignment, acupuncture, acupressure, and potions. Her pain required a mild mixture of alley root and stone spider venom, a common enough potion that kept for roughly one week.
Battilia will definitely be needing it. Along with her increased workload at the diner, she volunteers to help set the tables at the holiday feasts. She was rarely seen without an armload of plates or bowls.
Aldo was in the process of creating a pain blocking amulet for her, but the year long process wouldn’t be complete until Yule. Zoe’s birthday.
After sending Mrs. Lurchen home, Aldo exited his house and headed toward Sacred Hall. He is in a rush to see the Elders. What they decide might effect the rest of his day. He must absolutely find time to finish the endless punch he makes for the holidays.
For tonight he has made something that is slightly tart (for those that prefer the taste) yet sweet and fruity for the majority. He must also check on the boy whose lungs he was treating. The boy seemed fine but a follow up might be necessary.
Aldo’s thoughts quickly returned to the decidedly non-equine sound of hoof beats he had heard in the marsh earlier. The more he thought about it, the less he believed that it could have been will-o’-wisps trying to trick him.
The hall loomed ahead of him. It wasn’t a tall building, but the massive white bricks – made of earth from Avalon Island itself – gave the building an air of strength and solidity. The employees that staffed it twenty four hours a day preferred that citizens make appointments, but emergencies and even most urgent situations were tended to quickly.
Aldo walked up the ten steps to the doors. They were relatively new, having replaced the sagging, nondescript doors. Alok, a very talented local carpenter, had carved a sun on one door and a moon on the other in very high detail.
He waved a hand the doors and they opened. Aldo was a Touch Know. It was an ability that allowed the user to do magic without the aid of a wand. Greater spells didn’t always work with just the hand but it was not unheard of. Touch Knows were not common but were part of the Winter’s bloodline. Stacia and Zoe both showed signs of it at three years old.
The ceiling was fifteen feet high, painted a pure, bright white. Gray marble walls with glints of iridescent mica met a floor of red cedar. The daily waxing gave it a mirror-like shine.
Aldo approached the two White sisters at the reception desk. They wear black all year round, even on holidays. Today they exchanged the non descript robes for ones that have an orange crescent moon coven symbol on the chest. To their right sat Mr. Nodder, the leprechaun that managed and maintained the building.
“Sign in, please,” Yop said. She was the older of the two and just showing signs of grey in her roots. She was also the more pleasant, although not exactly known to be nice. Aldo waved a hand over the sign in book and his perfectly printed signature appeared on the sheet. Yop slid the book back and continued reading a parchment. She hadn’t, in fact, even stopped.
“Who are you here to see, healer?” the younger sister asked, no smile or hint of pleasantries touching her face. Nip, younger than Yop by one year and two days, kept her hair died a bright red. It kept the whole town wondering if she had began showing grey as well.
“The Elders, please,” Aldo replied.
“Have a seat,”said Nip,”They will see you when they can.”
Aldo wanted to say it was an emergency but it wasn’t required. He knew the Elders would not make him wait long out of respect for him having been one. Moonlighter’s tend to not mind waiting. Except Mr. Burns, the second oldest man in town next to Aldo, he was going deaf and could get quite impatient with others. Regardless the waiting area was made comfortable.
The chairs in the waiting area were of lavish red velvet, always perfect, for if they weren’t, they were immediately replaced or repaired. A television behind the reception desk showed a news broadcast from a Chicago coven, the primary source for most residents of magic cities. The entire room was quiet. Even the television sound was sent directly to users ears if they wished to hear. Books and magazines were available for readers. They were rotated every few months by Mr. Nodder. A comparatively modest coffee table sat near the chairs. The White sisters keep it stocked with freshly baked cookies and various refreshments from Pritchard’s Pantry.
Before Aldo could sit, the only door on the west wall opened. Ms. Penny stepped out and waved Aldo into the room. Mr. Kenning, full time bar owner, looked from the television to Aldo as he entered. He saw Aldo’s worried look and took some of it on himself. If the healer were having an unscheduled meeting with the Elders, it probably wasn’t good.
Aldo entered the Elder’s chamber and saw Mrs. Red sitting before them.
“Very well,” Mrs. Red said. “I’ll take my complaint to the Security Office. Thank you for your time.”
She turned, and on her way through the door that Aldo had just entered, she waved to him and bid him a good holiday. Ms. Penny, an elf and assistant to the Elders, closed the door behind Mrs. Red, then took her place at her desk behind a sound proof barrier. Elves were commonly used in Sacred Hall for they were the most trusted of magical creatures.
Aldo approached the Elders. The four men do not sit in any particular order. It’s just who gets there first for the day. They all wear the colors of the element they represent. Brown for Earth, light blue for Air, red for fire, blue for water, and white for Spirit. The colors are not exclusive to the Elders. Since Aldo was Spirit as an elder, he had worn white, he kept the tradition when he became healer.
“Good holiday, Aldo,” Elder O’Sullivan said. “How are you?”
“Well, that depends on your response to what I’m about to tell you,” Aldo replied ominously.
“We will listen,”said Elder Burke,”Please have a seat.”
“I think I would prefer to stand,”said Aldo.
He began to pace while he recounted his morning. Elder Sullivan had the feeling it was going to bad news. He would be right.
Zoe and her new friends approached a house that looked similar to the houses in her town; large, solid lumber, storm shutters, and a hand carved knocker on the door. It was the face of a man with leaves for hair and straight teeth biting a brass ring. Zoe glanced at some of the nearby doors and saw no other knockers.
“What does it do?” Zoe asked Tim. He looked at her and cocked his head.
“The knocker,” she said. Tim shrugged.
“Are you making a joke?” he asked.
Zoe realized that the children behind them were staring. She wasn’t any good with jokes, so she played it off.
“I was going to, but I forgot it,” she said.
“That’s okay! So go ahead, you know what to do.”
It was Zoe’s turn to give him a confused look. For a moment, she thought he knew about magic knockers.
“Come on, Hit Girl. I can’t reach!” he said with a laugh, grasping at but not quite reaching the brass ring. The children behind them joined in. At first, it seemed to Zoe like malicious laughter at her expense, but she realized it was the carefree joyous laughter of kids wanting to include her in their night of fun. It was at that moment she felt an excited peace envelop her, warmed by the inclusion into their “gang.”
What if it’s not supposed to talk but it does because I’m magical?, she thought, That would get us in trouble.
She reached up for the ring.
You will not talk. You will just knock, she told the knocker in her mind.
Magic is kept a secret from the Outside world, as it’s called. They used to live together but the result led to almost a war. Now magic is kept hidden, citizens are asked to hide it on the Outside and there is a debate if they will ever mix again. Most agree that it would not be peaceful so the decision still remains in favor of keeping it away.
Zoe gripped the ring, then pressed it down firmly, releasing a deep knock that resonated behind the door. Heavy footsteps grew in volume until the door opened. A teenage boy answered the door. As Tim and the boy greeted each other in the standard fashion, Zoe did a double take.
The teen was nothing out of the ordinary and looked to be about a year older than her. He wore a white, buttoned shirt, red bow tie, top had, and black cape. It was a rather boring affair, something that Zoe, had she not been momentarily mesmerized, wouldn’t have paid a second thought to. What had so raptly caught her attention was the aura around him.
It was a deep, ocean blue. Learning about auras was a standard class at Paragon Academy of Magic, but she had always required contact with the Seer for her to see them. She racked her brain for the meaning of the color, but it escaped her.
“Um, you want some candy?” he asked. “Wait, who are you? Don’t tell me.”
He dropped a handful of candy in her basket then stared for a full three seconds. Zoe was beginning to blush when he snapped his fingers.
“Hot Girl, from Kick-Ass, right?” he asked. Zoe’s blush came in fully.
“It’s Hit Girl, yes,” she said.
“Yeah, sorry. And is that your dad? Big Daddy? Awesome!”
Zoe’s nervousness crept in and she turned to her father.
“Mr. Bloom!” the boy called. He waved to Leo, then motioned him over. The boy turned his attention back to Zoe.
“So you’re Zoe?” he asked, then held out his hand and continued before she could answer. “I’m Gage Go. Your dad teaches my third period class and he’s, well, kick ass!”
Zoe puffed out a small laugh and shook his hand. As Leo approached from behind, Gage produced a cell phone and put an arm around her.
“Superhero pose!” he cried. The phone clicked just as they both flexed. Gage picked up the bowl of candy and returned to the doorway.
“I have to finish passing out this candy before I can go to the party,” he said. “See you Thursday, Mr. Bloom. Nice meeting you, Zoe.”
They waved and returned to the sidewalk. Tim and his mother had already moved to the next house. Zoe pulled her father’s sleeve until he was ear level.
“Dad,” she said quietly. “I saw Gage’s aura.”
His joy was instantly replaced by concern.
“Is that bad? Are you okay? Do we need to go?”
“Dad, calm down,” she said with a quiet smile. “It’s no big deal, I just wanted to let you know.”
And it was true. There had been an initial shock, but once she knew what it was, she was immediately at ease with it. Her father still looked on with concern. Aldo had warned him of taking her to The Outside without a proper rite of passage ceremony.
“Don’t worry!” she called as she trotted away to catch up with Tim.
Leo shook his head and caught up with Tim’s mother.
Please don’t lose control, Zoe, he thought. The night was still young.
Aldo stopped pacing and waited for a response from the Elders. They exchanged glances then focused on Aldo again.
“Satyrs?” O’Sullivan said with alarm, reflecting the response of the group.
Elder Burke’s shoulders sagged, Elders Wilson and Martinez frowned deeply, Elder Zhang wrung his parchment. Elders are expected to remain steadfast and sure at all times, but the moment none of them noticed. Aldo had only seen them lose their bearing twice before, first when the marsh had grown so large that it threatened the town, and second when a swarm of beetles had been accidentally released. They had nearly destroyed the town’s crops before the Magistra enchanted the bugs to avoid certain plants, a sort of magical Roundup.
Elder O’Sullivan was the only one to maintain a stoic appearance.
“Aldo, you said you didn’t see anything. No footprints, no disturbed vegetation. How can you be sure this was Satyrs at all?” he asked.
The others mumbled in agreement, eager to believe in another explanation.
“I understand that this isn’t much information to go on,” Aldo said. “The marsh could have taken the prints. I’m not sure but I do know that Satyrs like to leave marks.”
“It could have been the wisps, like Marigold stated,”said Elder Zhang.
“Excuse me, sir but how would they know what a Satyr is? There has been none in the marsh when they were all born,”pointed out Aldo.
The Elders turned and conferred with one another in hushed tones. After a minute of deliberation, they nodded to one another and faced Aldo.
“We’re going to discuss this immediately, Aldo,” Elder O’Sullivan said.
Aldo nodded to each of them in turn as they stood, took a step back, and seemed to shimmer away like heat waves over summer asphalt. His memory of the plane of light they go to had faded since his retirement from the council, but he knew that they wouldn’t be long, as time worked differently there.
He produced his quill and parchment and wrote a brief message of well wishing to Zoe. Aldo thought of the cell phone that Leo had offered him and wished he’d have accepted. He was still on the fence about how he felt about most things related to the Outside world, but always leaned toward acceptance, if not to embrace it. He was still content with contact by it’s current method. He didn’t think he needed a phone yet.
Aldo like many Moonlighter’s doesn’t believe in technology. It is an Outsider thing. They have televisions but not much else. Aldo believes the Outside relies to heavily on it. Leo has stated the Internet and more connects the world like how Aldo feels magic does for their world. Aldo doesn’t agree. He thinks magic is stronger since it is at the core of life force. Machines cannot produce that level of connection. The matter has been dropped for now with both understanding they disagree.
The area behind the council’s desk shimmered like before, and the Elders reappeared. They all sat in near unison, the same somber face on each of them.
“We’re going to address this immediately, Aldo,” Elder Burke said.,”We’re going ask the security force to scour the logs of all incoming and outgoing people while recommended they also check the perimeter of the marsh.”
“And I’ll be notifying the Magister and Magistra,” Elder Martinez said.
“Please notify me if you turn anything up,” he said.
“We will,” Elder Zhang said. “For now, enjoy the holiday. And thank you for bringing this to our attention.”
Aldo nodded again and left the room. He was enormously satisfied that they had taken him seriously, but his worry remained.
I will try to minimize my time in the marsh, for now, he thought.
The Mortem Marsh is a dangerous place yet to date has only taken one casualty. Aldo doesn’t want to think about that right now. No one thinks about it at all but Zoe will discover who eventually.
Zoe and her gang had made it through the odd numbered addresses on Shade Street, and she was confident that she’d overcome her nervousness. The more she was with Tim and his sister, the more it made her wish that she had friends. She had none at school. Sometimes Linda Anne would talk to her but not often enough. Zoe really wants someone she could talk to, share her love of the Outside and just be a kid with.
I will find Linda Anne tonight and show her the pictures, she thought, I know she’ll like that. Maybe she might hang out with me awhile.
Zoe tapped Tim on the shoulder then pointed to his mother, who was looking at him and tapping her watch. The group returned to the adults, all grins and overflowing candy containers. Leo grinned as well, happy and proud to see Zoe just being a kid. She hugged him.
“Dad, this was the best idea,” she exclaimed. “I want to do this every year. Look at how much candy I have!”
Leo was about to compliment her haul when Tim interrupted.
“Hey guys, we have to go to a party, thanks for trick or treating with us!”
Zoe and Leo waved to Tim and his family and they parted ways.
“We have about an hour if you want to keep going,” Leo said.
“Of course I do!” she cried. “Do you want to come to the door with me this time?”
“No, honey. You go be independent.”
They checked both ways, then crossed the street.
The house on the corner was three stories high. Every window was lit with a single electronic candle. The entire front side was covered in fake spider webs with plenty of large, malicious looking spiders placed on it. Three children moved down the walkway toward Zoe comparing their haul. Two vampires and a ghoul.
She approached the door and rang the bell. She waited twenty seconds and heard nothing, so she rang again. Still nothing. She looked at her father with confusion.
“Just knock, punkin. Maybe the doorbell is broken.”
She nodded, then turned back to the door. Zoe decided to knock but softly. As her small knuckles made contact, the door simply exploded inward away from her. She tried to step back, but stumbled instead, falling back on her rump.
“Zoe!” Leo yelled.
She didn’t hear him. Zoe simply stared dumbly at where the door had been, too shocked to move. A scream from inside the house pulled her focus to a young boy with copper colored hair. The door had stayed mostly in one piece. Most of the damage was to the hinge and strike plate areas. Unfortunately, this had caused it to retain enough weight to pin what was apparently the boy’s mother underneath.
“Stay here,” Leo said to Zoe, then stepped inside the house around the door.
“Hold still, ma’am,” he said, “I’m calling 911.”
“Mary! What’s going on?” a panicked voice asked.
Leo looked up and saw a forty-something man running toward them, presumably the woman’s husband.
“Terrorists?” he asked, eyes wild. He knelt next to the door and braced his hands under it. Leo helped him flip the door over and nearly laughed despite the situation. Pinned under the door was the woman wearing the widest, brightest yellow bumblebee costume Leo had ever seen.
“Hold on, they don’t want us to move her,” he said to the man.
“Like hell! Give me that!” The man grabbed Leo’s phone and began yelling into it about explosions and terrorists in Halloween costumes.
Leo did a quick once over of the woman. She appeared to be unhurt and was no longer crying for help, so he turned his focus back to Zoe.
In the few seconds of chaos, a small crowd had gathered in the doorway. Some of them were asking Zoe if she was okay, but most were staring at the panicked man screaming at the 911 operator.
“Excuse me, please! That’s my daughter!” Leo cried, pushing and shouldering his way through the onlookers.
“Zoe, are you hurt?” he asked when he reached her. He took one of her small hands in his.
“Dad?” she asked, looking at him. Her eyes were glassy and unfocused. “What happened? All I did was knock then boom!”
“It’s alright, Zoe,” Leo said, but he knew that it wasn’t. He very highly doubted that terrorists had targeted this particular doorway, in this particular town, right in front of his daughter. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, dad. I’m fine, just a bruised butt,” she said, slowly regaining her composure. She shook her head. “Dad, what did I do?”
“Shh, Zoe. It’s going to be okay, but we need to leave right now.” His heart was racing and he couldn’t catch his breath. His voice shifted to a whisper.
“Zoe, the police are coming and we can’t be here,” he said.
“Why? I thought they were like our security officers?”
Leo helped her up and brushed some of the dust from her costume.
“They are, Zoe,” he said, “but it’s wrong to lie to a police officer, and also against the law. They’ll track my phone, but for now we need to get you away from here.”
He took her hand and began walking away.
“Are we in trouble, dad?” she asked, mechanically following where his father was leading.
He stopped and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Zoe, I honestly don’t know. We need to get to Aldo right away. He’ll know what to do.”
Zoe knows that her father isn’t all knowing, but him not knowing how to deal with magic being witnessed by Outsiders worried her. The emotions that had been held back from the shock suddenly came flooding in. Outsiders witnessing magic was one thing, but hurting one of them? Not only did she feel awful, but the possibility of being exiled weighed heavily on her. Aldo was right, it was a bad idea for her to go outside of Moonlight Valley. She was growing into her power, and her father would never be able to fully understand it or help her.
They walked at a brisk pace, but not so fast as to draw attention from the two police cars, ambulance, and fire truck that raced by, sirens blaring. Worry lines etched Leo’s face as he contemplated being in serious trouble with the Moonlight Valley security force as well as local law enforcement. They deepened when he thought of Zoe. Her eyes kept finding his, looking for answers but finding none. Color changing cotton candy was one thing, exploding doors was quite another. At a loss for words, he remained silent and concentrated on getting them to Aldo.
“Dad, what happened?” she asked again.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Just keep moving. We need to get to your grandfather.”
“But you said that you’d have to lie to the police.”
“Maybe I won’t have to. When your mother was the Magistra, she had had an incident like this taken care of, but I’m not sure how or if it’s going to be possible.”
They reached the end of Shade street and headed toward the high school while Zoe’s head spun. Without warning, a sob escaped her mouth.
“Dad, what’s happening to me? To us?”
Leo stopped, knelt at her level, and put both hands on her shoulders.
“Zoe, I might not be able to help you with magic, but I can help you with life. Through time and experience, I’ve learned that it’s like a roller coaster. Sometimes it’s smooth and fun, but it can get bumpy and scary. But it’s always following the track, doing what it’s meant to do. Just like us. Everything happens because it’s meant to, okay?”
“Nothing will be alright, dad,” she said, her eyes red and glistening. “I broke the Wiccan Rede.”
The Wiccan Rede was their golden rule: harm none, do what ye will.
“Did you do it on purpose?” he asked her seriously.
“No! Never!” she cried.
“Well, it seems to me that the rede is talking about intentional actions. Since it was an accident, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be forgiven.”
Zoe nodded, trusting her father.
A siren behind them began growing in volume. It was getting closer and they had nowhere to go. The residential streets between them and the high school offered little in the way of concealment, and Leo really didn’t like the idea of hiding in a bush. Not to mention the fact that trick or treaters were still running about.
Suddenly, an idea occurred to Leo.
“Zoe, can you put a glamour on us?”
“Yeah, if I focus hard enough. What do you want me to do?”
“Anything that will change our costumes,” he said quickly, seeing the police cruiser slowly getting closer.
Zoe closed her eyes and said a quick, almost silent chant. She then raised her hands and opened her eyes. Their costumes changed instantly. She was now dressed as a princess and her dad as a pirate. She could hold the spell until they got to safety. She didn’t need a wand for this one. Her Touch Know was enough.
Leo sighed with relief, then took her hand and continued walking. The police car was passing them now, having not even slowed down at the sight of them. He felt that some lies were forgivable, like telling a student that their art is good when it clearly isn’t, but lying to a cop is not something he wants to experience, even if it were to protect Zoe.
“Dad, what would happen if you went to jail?” Zoe asked suddenly.
“Punkin, I’m not going to jail,” he said after a snort of laughter. “If we weren’t able to get away, I’d probably just answer a couple of questions and go home. It’s you that I’m worried about, and what could happen if Outsiders became aware of your magic.”
He wasn’t actually sure if it would just be some questions, but he felt that another white lie would be preferable to causing his daughter any more stress.
“I’m so sorry dad, this is all my fault!” she said.
“No it’s mine,” Leo said comfortingly. “Aldo warned me about taking you out into the world too early, and I didn’t listen.”
Zoe said nothing. They reached the car, got in, and drove away.
A few minutes later, they were on the highway heading towards home. Zoe had remained quiet, worrying about her potentially out of control abilities, wondering if a wand would just make things worse, and considering opting out of the born right power ceremony altogether. The thought of living the rest of her days in her room, never leaving, was very appealing at that moment.
She glanced at the speedometer and saw that Leo was driving ninety miles per hour in a sixty five mile an hour zone.
“Dad, I think we’re clear,” she said with a nervous laugh. She still appeared to be in shock, but was quickly regaining her composure.
“What? Oh,” he replied with a small laugh as well, slowing the car and setting the cruise control. The last thing they needed was a speeding ticket on top of everything else. He had been lost in his own thoughts, wondering if this was the incident that would finally get Aldo to accept a cell phone.
Another few minutes passed by, then Zoe broke the silence again.
“Dad? Linda Anne told me that every bloodline has black magic in it, some more or less than others. I think I may have inherited some.”
“That’s just not true,” Leo said, his eyes wide shock. “I may not know much, but I know that Aldo would have told us if there was any possibility like that.”
The truth was that he just didn’t know. They hadn’t yet sat down and gone through her entire genealogy. But he couldn’t just sit there and calmly explain to her that there was a very real possibility, however slight, of her growing into black magic abilities.
“If making things explode is my power, I don’t want it. Ever.”
“Zoe, you’re just upset,” he said. Besides, powers weren’t exactly a choice. A person got them, grew into them, and learned to control them, regardless of what they want. “Just relax a little until we get to your grandfather’s house. He’ll know what to do, and everything will work out. You’ll see.”
Zoe nodded, but there wasn’t much faith behind it.
She spent the rest of the drive wondering what they would do if they got exiled. She didn’t know what to expect but the worst possibility. She would find out.
Most of the stores on Main Street had already closed for the celebration, but some stragglers remained. Pritchard Blackwood was putting his produce stands back inside. The closed sign in Needful Rings was on display. Mrs. Anglegum, the sprite that owned The Cheeky Witch, was ringing up a few last minute items for some school kids. Candles at the candle store were being extinguished. The stores normally stayed open until 10PM, later on the weekends, but with Samhain starting in an hour, there was much preparation to be done.
In the Town Center on Main Street, forty or so residents were setting up the feast tables. Mr. and Mrs. Sumner, Moonlight’s artists, oversaw the decorating. Mrs. Lurchen, feeling just fine from her potion Aldo gave her, was setting out platters full of bread, fruit, vegetables, and other food items that didn’t need to be cooked. Everyone was smiling and talking loudly. The air is filled with excitement and anticipation.
Walking quickly along the sidewalk was High Officer Verdelet. His eyebrows were furrowed over the green skin of his face. A frown completed the look of frustration. The security team normally wore navy blue uniforms, but Verdelet preferred his brown robe, brown turtleneck, and brown boots. His badge, a simple pentagram on a silver chain around his neck, was slightly askew as he moved from person to person asking them the same question.
“Have you seen Aldo Winter?” he asked everyone he passed. Most kept their answers short or simply shook their head. It was best not to waste time when Verdelet was agitated.
Marilyn May, a ghost and fortune teller, glided along the sidewalk and caught up with him.
“Verdelet, I can give you a reading,” she said. “Maybe it will help you locate him?”
“Ms. May, I don’t have time for a fortune,” he said, then turned to walk away.
Marilyn floated around to his front, blocking his path.
“I’ll make it quick,” she said.
“Sixty seconds,” he said with a glance at his watch.
She took his hand. The Sight, although faded since her death, was powerful with her, but it still required physical contact. Holding his hand firmly, she locked eyes with the goblin. They stayed that way for nearly the full sixty seconds before Marilyn spoke again.
“Someone is plotting against the town,” she said monotonously, with her eyes now closed. A chill gripped her ghostly chest. “Tonight. There will be fire and trouble.”
Verdelet had been distracted and eager to leave, but the statement caught him off guard and caused a small spike of fear in his spine. The entire security team would be busy tonight, and he still had no idea where Aldo was, but it was all momentarily forgotten.
“Who?” he asked. “Who is plotting?”
“I’m sorry, Verdelet. I couldn’t see.”
“Can you try again?”
“No,” she said, casting her eyes at the ground and shaking her head. “Your reading drained me, I need to rest. Find me tonight and we can.”
Having exhausted what little time he could spare, he nodded to Marilyn and walked away, resuming his search for Aldo. Thinking about it, Verdelet realized that “someone plotting trouble” could mean anything, and it was most likely children planning their pranks. The fire was easily explained by the giant bonfire they ignited every Samhain. He shrugged.
I’ll look into it if I have time, he thought.
His parchment, full of various messages, still listed no reply from Aldo. He scrolled through it seeing various minor updates, nothing that required his immediate attention. The parchment went back into his pocket as he rounded a corner and disappeared.
Blinking from one known location to another, anywhere in the world but Mortem Marsh, was Verdelet’s specialty, but sometimes situations required walking. He decided to go to Aldo’s house. A simple thought and he blinked.
Noiselessly, he appeared on Aldo’s porch at his front door. The knocker announced his presence and he waited. Fearing that the loud music coming from inside may have masked his arrival, he engaged the knocker again. A low whistling noise, the method fairies used to sing lower notes, approached the door. The door opened and Marigold floated before Verdelet.
“Officer Verdelet, come in!” she said. “Would you like some tea?”
Goblins aren’t known for their politeness, especially when there are urgent matters at hand, but Marigold had been married to a fellow goblin friend of his, so he made an exception.
“Yes, please,” he replied as he walked through the door.
Marigold led him to the kitchen and pour the already hot water into a mug. She topped it with a tea bag of his favorite flavor, Berry Berry. Verdelet’s accepted the sugar dish and added one lump.
Verdelet took a sip of the tea, then set the mug on the table.
“I’m afraid I can’t stay,” he said. “I need to find Aldo right away. Tell me where he is.”
He clenched his teeth and drew in a small hiss of air. He was being rude.
“Please, if you know,” he added hastily. “Sorry.”
“Oh Verdelet it’s okay,” she said with a wave of her hand. “He’s at the Bloom house. Would you like the tea to go?”
“No, thank you. Blinking with a cup of hot tea isn’t the best idea.”
Marigold nodded, then Verdelet vanished. She laughed and turned away going back to her duties with a smile.
“Aldo, open up!” High Officer Verdelet yelled while ignoring the knocker and pounding on the door.
A flurry of footsteps sounded from behind the door. Leo had been expecting him. He and Zoe had only arrived a few minutes before, immediately texting Aldo and waiting for his advice. Aldo had flown his broom as fast as he dared, but hadn’t arrived fast enough for more than a greeting, so they were all caught off guard. Leo’s heart pounded and his palms were moist as he opened the door.
Verdelet walked straight in, brushing past Leo, eyes darting around the entryway. Leo’s fear began giving way to indignation.
“Show me where the problem child is,” he said.
“With respect, officer,” Leo said, trying to keep his anger in check, “I’ll be speaking with you on her behalf. I know what happened.”
The comment stopped Verdelet in his tracks. He turned around and stepped close to Leo.
“Do you now, Outsider?” he asked.
Verdelet doesn’t really mind the Outsider’s but right now he is angry. He is not thinking straight and resorting to rudeness.
“Well, I don’t know what she did, but I know what the result was.”
“Exactly. You don’t know magic, so she’ll answer for herself. I will talk to her now!”
Leo wanted to remind Verdelet of exactly who’s house he was standing in, but thought better of it. He was, after all, a father. As a protector he had failed earlier, but he could at least be a good example and show some respect for authority. He nodded and led Verdelet to the living room.
Aldo was seated in a chair near the fire. In front of him sat Zoe, cross legged, with her head in her hands. When the goblin walked into the room, he sat up straighter.
She hadn’t stopped sobbing since they arrived home, but quieted when she heard Verdelet. He stopped, towering over her, then spoke.
“Ms. Bloom,” he said in his normal voice. Which was calm under pressure. “I need you to tell me what happened.”
She shook her head, unable to look up or speak.
Leo stepped forward.
“I can tell you what happened,” he insisted.
“Maybe I should,” Aldo tried.
“No,” Verdelet growled, very clearly indicating that he was done with their interruptions. “She broke the law, and she will tell me.”
Zoe stood, then slowly looked up. When she saw her father, a fresh sob escaped her. She raced to him, threw her arms around him, buried her face in his chest, and began crying again.
Aldo stood. Now it was Verdelet’s turn to be towered over. Aldo was six feet tall so it was quite the comparison.
“Officer Verdelet,” he said with an edge to his voice, “I must insist. I am well aware of your procedure, but you must give her time to calm down. I’ll even give her some calming tea.”
The goblin paused, then nodded. Everyone knew of his soft spot for children, not to mention his immense respect for Magistra Bloom, who he had loved to work with.
Aldo left to the kitchen without a word. Leo settled Zoe onto the couch and Verdelet sat in the chair opposite Aldo’s. He stared at the flames, suddenly wishing that he’d taken Marigold up on the offer for tea to go.
Some slightly sweetened Berry Berry tea would be just perfect, he thought.
Aldo came back with a steaming cup and put it on the coffee table in front of Zoe. She looked up briefly to silently thank Aldo, but a tear slid down her cheek, so she looked back down. Her stomach was upset, and her head hurt from the crying. The tea was hot but drinkable, so she took a sip and waited. The reaction was quick. Her stomach settled and the headache dissipated. She finished the cup in four large swigs and set it down and took a deep breath.
“I don’t know what happened, High Officer Verdelet.” She looked up with her red eyes and sniffled. “I knocked and the door just exploded. I fell, and dad helped the lady inside. We came straight back here.”
“Okay,” the goblin said with a nod. The situation wasn’t uncommon, but it happening in the Outside was particularly dangerous. “And what were you feeling before or during? I need to know how you lost control.”
Zoe thought for a moment, then shrugged.
“I was just having fun.”
“Something must have happened,” Verdelet said calmly. “Focus. This will help me determine what we need to do next.”
“Well, the doorbell didn’t work,” she said. “I was wondering if I should ring again or knock. I didn’t want to be rude.”
“So you were worried? Frustrated perhaps?”
“Maybe,” she said, then looked at her empty mug. She realized that the effect had worn off.
“Oh please don’t exile us!” she blurted. “I didn’t mean it! Take my powers, anything!”
Leo grabbed Zoe in a warm hug and scowled at Verdelet, who nodded then stood.
“This isn’t an offense that would warrant exile,” Verdelet said. “As far as the Outsider’s remember, it was a strong gust of wind and you two were never there. I just needed to make sure that this won’t become a pattern.”
“Wait,” Leo interjected. “What about my 911 call?”
“While our humble culture may not match yours in technology,” Verdelet said lowly, “We did manage to change the trace and mask your voice.”
Leo nodded, feeling much better knowing that he wouldn’t have to lie to Outsider police officers.
“And will the woman be okay?” Zoe asked.
“Yes. A little salve and she was fine. Trust me, the situation is handled,” he said, then turned to Leo. “Although it would be better if this situation had never happened at all.”
Leo gave in and nodded. The goblin took a step back and addressed the group.
“She is to report to the Magistra and Magister after the holiday before school. Until then, she is not to leave Moonlight Valley. Understood?”
Leo, Zoe, and Aldo nodded.
“I have no plans on going Outside ever again,” Zoe said.
The comment broke Leo’s heart. He would have to bring it up with her later.
Verdelet stood straight and prepared to blink, but saw Zoe’s red, tear streaked face.
“Good holiday,” he managed, then disappeared.
Verdelet had thought he had taken care of but he was wrong. The matter of a photo Gage Go took would come up but much later.
Zoe and Leo walked along their street, Lazy Axe Twist. It had been named after the first dwarf to join the founders of Moonlight Valley, Twist. He had been tasked with clearing a large portion of forest for a residential area, a job that he took very seriously. Unfortunately, he suffered from narcolepsy, and would occasionally fall asleep in the middle of cutting, earning him the nickname “Lazy Axe.”
Zoe’s eyes were still a little red, but she had calmed considerably after High Officer Verdelet had left. She was wearing her holiday robe and the dreaded pointy shoes. They had already passed the Cruzs and were approaching Manx’s houses. At the end of the block, a large house, the largest on the block, having been expanded three times to accommodate the large Kennings family, seemed to dwarf Manx’s. They have three kids Zoe used to play with but they are in the second degree now while Zoe is only in first. Now the kids have brooms which they ride to school so she has lost interaction with them.
They took the walkway to the steps and waited as the knocker announced them. Manx, a stunning, white whiskered and red furred were-cat answered the door with a broad, smile. Covering most of the fur was a black holiday robe, and on her feet were black sandals, as the traditional pointy tipped shoes didn’t fit her properly.
“Come right in, Blooms!” she exclaimed while opening the door.
The door opened to the living room, and in it were 48 cat eyes, looking at them suspiciously. Manx was a breeder of feline familiars, often sending them to locations around the world. Her house was always full of them. Familiars are animals with magical power that are raised to be companions to young witches and warlocks. They are treated as more than pets.
“Thank you for helping me,” Manx said as they cautiously stepped toward the living room. “Blitz was going to, but he had to make a last minute Bombay kitten delivery.”
“No problem, Ms. Manx,” Leo said. “We’re always happy to help.”
Zoe was petting a kitten when she noticed a big ruby on Manx’s hand.
“Is that new?” she asked, pointing at the ring.
“Oh, I wasn’t supposed to be wearing that!”
“It’s beautiful,” Zoe said as she stepped in closer and looked into the blood red gem.
“Does that mean what I think it means?” Leo asked with a wide smile.
“Yes,” she said with barely masked excitement. Her whiskers twitched.
“Congratulations!” Zoe and Leo said in unison as they hugged her.
“Blitz is going to propose in front of everyone soon. Please don’t tell anyone!”
“Your secret is safe with us,” Leo said, now admiring the ring himself.
Manx had never had much luck with love. She had been single until the age of fifty-five, when she went to a were-cat singles mixer in California. It was there that she had met Blitz, her soon to be husband.
“Any wedding plans yet?” Leo asked as he sat on the sofa.
“Only the dress,” she said as she sat next to Leo. “We’ve had a wedding dress in the family for many generations. Which reminds me, I wanted to ask you both a favor.”
Zoe stopped petting the cats and looked at Manx.
“I know that our customs can be very different, but Zoe, I was wondering if you would be the flower girl if it’s okay with your father.”
“I’d love you!” Zoe gushed, then looked at her father. “Can I, dad?”
“Of course!” he said.
Zoe jumped and clapped her hands. The stress of her Halloween mishap completely vanished for the moment.
They spent the next few minutes gathering the bags of treats – for the familiars – and kittens that Manx planned on bringing. Once complete, the distributed the load and walked out the door. Zoe had volunteered to carry the kittens.
“Have you thought about taking one of my cats for a familiar?” Manx asked Zoe. They continued walking along Lazy Axe Twist.
“I’m still thinking,” Zoe said. “I liked Chilly. He was one of yours, right?”
Chilly had been her mother’s familiar.
“He was. Choosing your familiar is an important and life long decision, as you know. Take your time, talk to your friends about theirs.”
“Well, that’s not really an option,” Zoe said.
“Aw, still no friends?”
Zoe shook her head and Manx gave her a sympathetic smile.
“I still don’t know what animal will fit me best so I’m just seeing how things go,”said Zoe.
“Take your time,”said Manx.
The leaves crunched under their feet, shattering into flakes of fall colors and reminding Zoe that she still needed to rake their lawn. It was another on a respectably long list of chores that earned her ten dollars a week. She stashed her savings in a shoe box under her bed. She had a hundred saved up so far yet didn’t have any plans of it. Zoe also got a monthly allowance for online purchases. She didn’t ask for much, just clothes when she needs them, video games on sale, and books for her Kindle.
Zoe was currently reading everything zombie who don’t seem to be a thing in her world, that she knows. She had just finished Season 1 of The Walking Dead and is hooked. She can’t wait to watch the next season. How many seasons there are still eludes her but she is going to watch them all on Netflix. She has heard of the comic book but isn’t interested at this time.
The buzz of finding out she was to be a flower wore off as they continued walking toward Main Street. Replacing it was the worry that she is a black witch. Aldo and Leo had reassured her as best they could, but Zoe was still strongly considering just having her powers bound and be done with it.
No witch or warlock had ever given up their powers before even having them. Maybe she would be the first.
Zoe, Leo and Manx arrived at the Town Center.
It looks amazing, thought Zoe.
The grassy area in the center of town was decorated for the holiday. There was an oak tree in each corner of the square wrapped with fireflies blinking in orange and purple. Between the trees were long feast tables. The main dishes were all along the west side, while the north sported the desserts. To the east were the drinks. The all year altar was in the center, four feet tall and round. There was salt placed around it to help protect the holiday from unwanted spirits and energy. On the altar were fresh candles. Orange and black with one white one in the center. It was also decorated specifically for Samhain. Dried herbs, first fall leaves (rich reds, browns with some green,) and on the base is some fresh pumpkins. Lighting the square were floating lanterns. all emitting an orange glow.
Town Center could fit all of the Moonlighters comfortably. The south was the entrance and the designated location for the bonfire for all Sabbats that are in cold weather. The fire was magically enchanted so it will radiate heat to all around the area.
The fire was already blazing as the three walked in. Zoe was cold on the way over, but now she felt toasty. She and her father followed Manx to the drink table. The were-cat set up the treats for the familiars under the table.
“Can I help you set up?” asked Leo.
“No, I have a system that helps me do it quickly and correctly. Thank you for the offer,” said Manx.
“Alright, let me know if you need help,” said Leo. “Happy Halloween.”
“Oh, that’s the Outsider holiday, right?” asked Manx with an amused smile.
“Yes, sorry. Good holiday,” said Leo.
Manx gave him and Zoe a hug. The Blooms got a drink while they were there. Zoe got a cup of Pritchard’s apple cider. Apples, cinnamon, with a touch of honey warmed to perfection. Leo always dipped into Aldo’s endless punch.
“This is different this year,”said Leo. ”Fruity with a touch of crab.”
“Should we get gramps some?” asked Zoe.
“Let’s find him first,” said Leo.
They walked through the crowd wishing everyone a good holiday. Zoe didn’t feel like anything, but her drink is was very good. She has felt guilt before, but now it’s a big dose.
I hurt someone, she mulls. Outsider or not, it’s wrong.
She was not watching where she was going. She tripped when the point of her shoe hit the ground incorrectly, propelling her straight into Magister Wiggins. Her drink flew out of her hand and spilled all over his holiday robe.
“Oh Magister, sir! I’m so sorry! It’s these shoes!” yelped Zoe.
She felt worse than she already did before she managed that blunder.
“Zoe, are you alright?” asked Eryx.
He held out a hand to help her up.
“Yes, just fine. I’m sorry I ruined your robe,”said Zoe, who couldn’t look up at him.
Leo saw the mishap and rushed to her. Then he realized Eryx helped her so he decided to just wait and see if she needed him. He really wanted the festival to cheer her up. The trip was compounding on her. He could see it in her reaction.
“It’s nothing Ms. Bloom,”said Eryx. He took out his wand, waved it over the spill and it disappeared. “See? All clean again.”
“Dad?” said Zoe. “I think I had the right idea earlier. I think I should just hide at home.”
Leo opened his mouth, then closed it.
“I would like to hear why you want to hide,”said Eryx in a mild manner.
Zoe made sure her shoes were steady, then stood a bit firmer.
“I’m a black witch,” said Zoe quietly, and with a hint of shame.
Eryx almost didn’t hear.
“A black witch? You?” he asked. “You’re not even thirteen, so how could you know? And you come from a good bloodline. Not a trace of black magic in it.”
Eryx knew it was still possible regardless of her bloodline but he knew she was already alarmed and didn’t want to compound the issue.
“You must know what I did tonight, sir,” explained Zoe.
“I know what happened,”said Eryx in a soothing tone. “The fact is it could have happened to anyone your age. No one is perfect, Zoe. Even as Magister there is no guarantee a spell will work correctly.”
“You could never hurt someone, sir,” said Zoe.
Eryx took a deep breath.
“Zoe, you should know that even white magic must be used in defense. That can lead to hurting another. On occasion that entails Outsiders.”
“Sure, I was told that in school, but I wasn’t defending myself!” said Zoe, exasperated. “I just hurt the woman!”
Eryx put an arm around her.
“I know you didn’t do it on purpose and that is what matters. From what I hear you were doing something fun. It’s not your fault you can’t control your power yet.”
Zoe always liked the Magister. He was always kind to her. The comfort of someone outside her family was just what she needed.
“I still don’t want my power,” said Zoe. “I wish you could make it so I could never get it at all. Or just bind me.”
The guilt, the pressure of the future punishment, not having friends, the loss of her mother all crashed onto her at once. Magister Wiggins was good friends with Stacia Bloom. He had always had a soft spot for Zoe.
“Zoe, do you know that this year, your birthday will be on one of the most powerful days in the last fifty years?”asked Eryx.
“No,”said Zoe. “Gobbledygook! That just makes it worse!”
The shock of the news sent her mind racing. She withdrew physically away from Eryx. She wiped a tear that came as she stood there.
“Oh, you must bind me,” she said.
“That can be considered, but first I want you to know about what is coming. Think about it for a few days, alright?” asked Eryx.
Zoe nodded then shrugged.
“It is so special that only white magic will prevail on that day,” said Eryx, thoroughly engaged.
He was looking forward that day and was eager to see the result. Zoe would share her birthday with others, but only she would be receiving her born right power. Eryx was excited to see what she may receive. It could be something not seen before, rare, or nothing different, but the chance of something new interested him greatly.
“Alright, but if I’m black magic, what will happen?” asked Zoe.
“Honestly, probably not much,” said Eryx.
“How does that work?” asked Zoe, eager to hear more. She had always trusted the man’s word.
“It’s like this,” explained Eryx. “The first five planets will be aligned in a diagonal line. This means all their attributes that we share with them will be magnified. Love, philosophy, karma, action and communication, is all guaranteed to improve in us all, but far more for someone turning thirteen. Then there will be the sun eclipsing the moon. To top it off, a meteor shower later in the night. Black magic will be dampened on that day, so it will be a whimper.”
“How will I know?” asked Zoe.
“I’m afraid it’s the same option for everyone. You must wait and see,” said Eryx. “What I can say is it’s rare for white line of witches to produce a black magic one.”
“Ya, I learned that in the first year of school. I was also told that an indication of black magic can happen which an example is hurting others,”said Zoe.
“Many things can happen, but nothing is definite until the ceremony,” said Eryx. “We all go through the same thing, Zoe. I went through it too. I turned out just fine.”
That got Zoe’s attention.
“You could have never been black magic, sir,” said Zoe.
“I could have. I have black magic in my ancestry,” said Eryx. “I also had my own incident with power going awry on the Outside.”
“What happened?” asked Zoe.
“I shut down the power grid of a portion of the city in Colorado,” said Eryx.
He didn’t like to share the story and had been trying to avoid it, but he saw that Zoe needed to hear that she wasn’t the only one.
“Wow!” said Zoe.
“Yes. It was a big event, but it got fixed. Just like your incident,” said Eryx. “It all turns out the way it should. You should be white magic.”
“Ya, I guess that makes more sense. I only have two months to wait. It’s not that long,” said Zoe.
“No, it’s not. And it does no good to spend all that time worrying,” said Eryx.
“Alright, sir. I think I can handle that,” said Zoe. “But if I’m black magic, you will bind me.”
“Of course,” said Eryx. “That’s your a choice.”
“Thanks, sir,” said Zoe.
The ache in her chest felt more relieved. She was a bit confused, but she knew that being black magic in Moonlight Valley did not require being exiled. There were a few black magic citizens in the town. They were all bound, by law, and were good people. Black and white magic made no difference if a person was bad or good. That happened with everything. Mr. Kenning, her neighbor, was black magic while the rest of his family were all white.
Tasia Wiggins went up to Eryx with their two young children. Zoe knew Ruby, the oldest, who was in all her classes. They don’t speak to each other, but are friendly.
“Good holiday, Blooms,” said Tasia. “Sorry for the interruption, but Eryx and I are meeting with Daria for drinks right now.”
“Feel better, Zoe,” said Eryx before he left.
“Then stay and enjoy the feast.”
Eryx left while Zoe gushed to her father about being excited about the holiday along with her upcoming birthday. She felt confident that even if she was black magic, she would be alright. She wanted magic in her life, but love was more important. She was surrounded by that and feels ready to celebrate.
“Dad, is it okay if I go find Linda Anne?” asked Zoe. “I want to show her my Halloween pictures.”
“Sure,” said Leo. “I’ll be with Aldo. Just find me before we sit to eat.”
She nodded, then raced away. She headed toward the bonfire where students tended to hang out. She spotted Linda Anne who was talking to two other students that were civil to Zoe. On her way, she nearly tripped into The Necromancer.
The Necromancer winced as the Bloom girl nearly tripped into him. His reflexes almost caused him to reach out to catch her, but he decided to let her fall. Zoe caught herself at the last moment and continued running past him.
His anger flared. How he hated the Blooms. If Regina had managed to gain Stacia Bloom’s power, it would be a small compensation, but until his plan came to fruition, all he could do was stew in his anger.
Holidays were another annoyance. In the forbidden city that used to be his home, Samhain was celebrated away from children. It was a night full of power that aided with conjuring of and communication with demons, spirits, and ghosts. The Necromancer was, like all necromancers, would normally have been revered on the day, but being stuck in the white magic town, dressing in their ridiculous robes and trip-inducing shoes, pretending to be something he was not, prevented the celebrations that would normally bring him great joy.
He hoped to regain some of that joy tonight. His plan with the marsh was solid, although not particularly inventive. Navigating the marsh had been a problem for a long time. He had destroyed a few will o-the-wisps when they guided him poorly or gotten him lost altogether. It took a full year before he found a wisp that would take him to the lost gravestone. He also knew which wisps to avoid, like the ones that aided Aldo, and the nosy pink one that always seemed to be watching him from afar.
The Necromancer shook his head slightly, clearing his thoughts and getting back to acting like a Moonlighter. He accepted a cup of coffee from one citizen or another that he didn’t care about, and made small talk with others that he cared about even less. But, even though he was evil, he had a heart. There were some that his shriveled organ could muster some affection for, sometimes even love. Unfortunately, he couldn’t reveal his truth to his loved ones yet, but he was confident that they would understand and even support him once they knew it. He would ensure it.
The Necromancer was ready to put a thorn into Moonlight Valley. Tonight.
A large bonfire loomed in the distance. Zoe, having just recovered from nearly falling on her face, continued running toward it. Linda Anne was ahead talking to another student now. Zoe slowed her pace, waiting for the boy to walk away. It wasn’t that Zoe didn’t like him, but he had never spoken to her, or much of anyone outside of his small circle of friends.
“Hey, Linda Anne!” Zoe said.
“Hey, Zoe!” Linda said. For a moment, neither of them said anything. They were, at best, pseudo-friends. Zoe broke the awkward silence.
“I got pictures of Halloween, in The Outside. Want to see?”
Linda agreed, so Zoe took her phone out and stood shoulder to shoulder with the orange haired witch, scrolling through pictures. Linda was interested at first but quickly found her eyes wandering to the bonfire where her real friends were.
“You did this for hours?” Linda asked, unimpressed.
“Oh yeah, it was fun,” Zoe explained. “I got tons of candy. Do you want me to bring some for you to school?”
“No, thanks. I don’t trust Outsider food.”
Zoe had had the argument many times with others. For some reason, the myth that Outsider food was harmful to magic users wouldn’t go away, even though she always brought up the fact that her grandfather and his maid had it all the time. She decided not to push it, but couldn’t think of anything else to say. Another awkward silence fell between them.
“I saw a deep blue aura today, without the Seer,” Zoe said, trying to keep Linda’s interest. Zoe didn’t have many friends, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
“Really? On your own?” she asked, genuine interest finally finding it’s way to her eyes and face. “Who was it?”
Zoe recounted the short memory of Gage, the boy she had met while trick or treating, and his aura.
“Do you know what the color means?” Zoe asked.
“From what I know, it shows generosity and an openness to new things. Clairvoyance, too, but you said he wasn’t magic?”
“So why would I see it?”
Linda thought for a moment, then snapped her fingers as she remembered her lessons on auras.
“A spontaneous aura means that your paths are linked, that you two have unfinished business.”
Zoe couldn’t think of any unfinished business she could possibly have with an Outsider.
Before the silence could turn awkward again, cackling laughter erupted from behind them. Zoe sighed when she saw that it was Circe and Ceridwen Rane, the Magistra’s stuck up daughters. They had received their powers that summer and had no qualms with exploiting them, particularly when it came to Zoe. Their favorite torment was turning Zoe’s purple streaks green. She had been dealing with their teasing and taunting since she was five. Being nice, negotiating, and avoiding the sisters only seemed to increase their desire to make her miserable.
“Linda, why are you hanging with her?” Circe asked.
“Yeah, why are you hanging with the wicked weirdo?” Ceridwen added with a malevolent grin.
A few nearby children giggled at the new nickname. They were already turning the bystanders against her. Zoe’s hands clenched and unclenched.
“Don’t call me that…lame Rane!” Zoe said, but instantly regretted it when she heard the crowd gasp. Nobody challenged the twins, especially not without a wand handy to defend themselves with.
“What did you call us, weirdo?” Circe asked as she pulled her wand from inside her robe.
Naznin, Circe’s cat and familiar, hissed and wrapped her tail around Circe’s leg.
“Do something, wicked weirdo,” the cat said raspily. It knew that Zoe could understand all familiars, and enjoyed teasing her with Circe and Ceridwen.
Zoe clapped a hand to her mouth.
“I’m sorry!” she said. “I didn’t mean it, I just don’t like being called names.”
She was scared, but anger was creeping in as well. A fleeting though of knocking their heads together flashed through her mind, but she knew that it could only end with her being turned into something slimy and uncomfortable. Circe was skilled with Transformations, and also a good liar. On two separate occasions she had turned a fellow student into a lizard. The first time she had lied about it being an accident, as they were learning about Transformation in class. The second time, Ceridwen covered for her by saying that it was just another accident.
Zoe knew about the incidents, as did Ms. Enigma, the poor Potions and Transmutations teacher that had had to undo the spell. The only result had been moving Circe’s seat so that her wand would face the windows. Her father’s advice had been to avoid it when possible, and pick a battle she could win.
“Really?” Ceridwen asked. “You don’t like being called what you are?”
“I’m not wicked, or weird,” Zoe tried, then realized that she was taking their bait.
The twins laughed.
“Oh,” Circe said, rolling her eyes. “So it was another witch that hurt an Outsider today? With black magic?”
Zoe’s heart skipped a beat and she was stunned into silence. No one but her family and Verdelet should have known about it, although she supposed that it was possible for the information to have gotten to them from their mother.
“Yeah, wicked weirdo, we know what you did!” Ceridwen said. “Circe, let’s turn her into a mouse so Naznin can chase her all night.”
The few children nearby had turned a small crowd, most of which giggled at the comment.
Linda looked at Zoe and took a step back.
“Did you really hurt someone?” she asked.
“It was an accident,” Zoe said to Linda, but loudly so everyone could hear. “It was just a door, and the lady is going to be okay.”
“You did hurt someone!” Linda exclaimed, then an accusatory tone came into her voice. “So you’re a black witch?”
“I don’t know!”
Zoe turned to leave, wanting to rush away before she began crying. Again. But before she could, Circe yelled behind her.
“Who said you could leave?”
Zoe turned again to face them, but looked at her feet. An older, much wiser voice came from behind the whole group and caused everyone to instantly close their mouths.
“Is there a problem, Circe Rane?” asked Vasaam, the principal at Paragon Academy of Magic. He was a sylph and like any other of his kind was near transparent, without detail from the waist down and glowed a bit.
Zoe let out a quiet lungful of air that she didn’t even know she was holding in. Vasaam seemed to show up whenever she was in trouble.
“No, sir,” Circe said, dropping her wand hand to her side. “I was just going to show weirdo – I mean Zoe – a new spell.”
Naznin hiss-laughed quietly.
“Well, don’t let me stop you,” Vasaam said. “Go ahead, it’s good practice.”
Circe’s and Ceridwen looked at each other. Everyone knew that Vasaam favored no student so they could get in trouble with him.
“I was going to…um…” Circe stammered.
“Give the bonfire a blue flame!” Ceridwen cried.
“Purple would be more appropriate, don’t you think?” he asked. “How about a nice plum shade.”
Zoe’s curiosity was piqued. Circe had never been good with glamours. She watched as Circe pointed her wand at the fire.
“Modo Mutari!” she yelled.
A spark popped from the end of the wand and went into the fire. It seemed to work for a moment before a flame licked out along the path that the spark had followed, straight for Circe. She cried out and pulled back, tripping over Naznin as he scampered away, and ending up on her butt on the sidewalk.
“Well, Ms. Rane,” Vasaam said as he held a hand out to her. “You had the right thought, but not the right spell. You said Change Now, that is not necessary it is simply Recensere, just Change.”
Circe accepted the hand and stood.
“Yes, sir. Come on, sis. Let’s find my cat.”
The children around them suddenly laughed and pointed at her. Zoe even joined in, unable to stop herself.
“What are you laughing at?” Ceridwen yelled, then instantly figured it out. Her eyebrows had been singed away. She said nothing and simply ran away, Circe close behind her.
“Don’t worry about them right now, Zoe,” Vasaam said, even though she was clearly not worried at all. “Your father is looking for you.”
Zoe looked at Linda, but she obviously was done being seen anywhere near her. With a wave and a thank you to Vasaam, she walked toward her father across the way, catching the tail end of his conversation with Mrs. Red.
“So I turn around, and poof! Five pies, no where to be seen!” she said.
Zoe had no interest in pies. Instead of joining the conversation, she tugged on her father’s shirt sleeve and indicated a quiet spot with her eyes. Leo nodded.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Red,” he said. “It was great seeing you. I hope you find your pies.”
They moved out of earshot, then Zoe spoke.
“Dad, the kids know about the door, and that poor woman.”
“That’s supposed to be private,” he said, confused.
“It was the twins. The Magistra probably told them.”
“That will not do!” he said. “I’m going to see High Officer Verdelet right away.”
“No, dad. Please don’t.”
“Why not, punkin? What’s the matter?”
“It’s just going to get worse with the lame Ranes,” she said. Leo smiled at the nickname. “I just need someone on my side tonight, be normal, have fun, and forget about it all.”
“Alright,” he said, wrapping her in a hug. “How about you do all that, and have as much dessert as you want?”
Her eyes lit up, but she was suspicious.
“Do I have to eat a huge plate first?” she asked, eyeing him.
Leo put a finger on his mouth in mock consideration.
“One vegetable,” he said. “Then fill up on sweets. Then extra teeth brushing tonight.”
They laughed, then walked toward where Leo had last seen Aldo.
I really need a friend, Zoe thought, That’s all I would wish for right now.
What she didn’t know was her wish would come true. Tonight.
It was time for the feast. Wilbur, a ghost and former Magister, rang the hand held silver holiday bell. The bell resounded deeply and loudly, drawing a cheer from the crowd gathered in front of it in Town Center. It signified the beginning.
Magistra Daria Rane, wearing a silver robe with black stepped to the altar as Wilbur stepped back. Her strawberry blonde hair flowed below a coronet of candles, unlit, past the red witch jewels around her neck, to the small of her back. Beside her was Magister Eryx Wiggins in his gold robe. On his head is a ringlet holding a single, also unlit candle. Behind them were the Elders in their place. In front High Officer Verdelet. The crowd formed the rest of the ring of people surrounding the altar.
Daria lifted her hand and the crowd instantly went quiet. Her beautiful, heart shaped face was serious, but somehow happy at the same time.
“Ignis,” she said, and waved her wand at the candles on the altar.
The wicks burst aflame, as did the ones on the Magister and Magistra’s head decorations, and the candles at the feast tables. It signaled the beginning of Samhain. The scent of patchouli, earthy and moist, filled the air as Verdelet lit the incense with matches.
“Tonight is the first of three nights on which we celebrate Samhain.” Daria said. “It is the end of the harvest, the last days of summer and the cold nights wait on the other side for us. The bounty of our labor, the abundance of the harvest, the success of the hunt, all lies before us. We thank the Earth of all it has given us this season, and yet we look forward to winter, a time of sacred darkness.”
She looked to Wiggins.
“Blessed be,” he said.
“Blessed be,” everyone else said in unison.
The Magister continued,”Summer is gone, winter is coming. We have planted and we have watched the garden grow. We have weeded, and we have gathered the harvest. Now it is at its end.”
“Let us begin the feast with the breaking of the bread!” the Magistra said.
She waved her wand and wood stools appeared behind each person. They all sat, then plates of bread appeared in front of every fifth person. Once the dark rye and honey bread was distributed, everyone took a bite.
Fifteen minutes later, after lightly filling her plate with various meats, vegetables, and side dishes, Zoe found her father and Aldo and sat down. Zoe got some glazed ham, with butternut squash with apples, harvest scalloped corn and a pumpkin muffin. Leo came back with meat pie, honey bread and fresh pasta. Aldo, being a vegetarian, practically had a garden on his plate.
“Dig in!” Leo said.
They did. Zoe was hungry, but she only ate enough to be sure that her father wouldn’t break their deal of unlimited desert.
So back to the food tables she went, leaving her plate with the other dirty dishes and grabbing a clean one. On it went a large slice of pumpkin cheesecake and five skeleton cookies. As an afterthought, she took two more cookies and put them in her robe pocket.
When Zoe sat back down, her father had a cup of coffee and an apple muffin. Aldo was sipping tea. The feast will continue with hot drinks or alcohol. There are always many kinds of ales or meads available. It will be consumed in moderation by most except Goldenricker. He is the maintenance manager at the school. He tends to partake a bit more ending up with a red nose and cheeks early on.
The Necromancer, feeling petty, put a nightmare potion in on of the popular ale’s. Everyone who drinks it will be inflicted, including Goldenricker. He will have a dream of losing his pot of gold. In the morning he will frantically check on it. The gold will be gone.
The residents of Moonlight Valley were warm, full bellied, and ready to begin the next part of the celebrations: communing with dead friends and loved ones. They often presented food and drinks to honor the ghosts, who on Samhain regained some of their senses of taste.
The Ways of the Summoning teacher, Palehill, focused on wine. He really relished taste for these days. Liquids would just pass through him but it never made much of a mess so no one minded. Other ghosts joined except Gwen Palant.
She was always lost in her own world, didn’t quite listen to anyone and didn’t realize she was a ghost. As the town Animal Control (in life) Gwen had been charged with keeping the wild animals in the forest away from citizens and aiding familiars to stay out of the forest. As a ghost she can no longer tell the difference between wild and familiar. All are subject to her net.
“Look out! Rabid wolf!” Gwen yelled, running after The Smith’s three legged – not rabid and not wolf – dog.
Hairy, the dog, juked left, passing straight through Palehill then bowled into a dessert table. A bowl of marmalade cookies toppled over, plates and sweets shifted over or fell off the table, and fruity gelatins jiggled.
Just as she was about to drop her net on the dog, a dome of dim light bloomed around it. The net bounced off and Gwen cursed.
“Bird brained bandit!” she cried, turning to Aldo who was a few feet away. He put away his wand and smiled at Gwen.
“Gwen,” he said calmly. “I think there’s a raccoon in the alley by the diner. Would you be a dear and look into it for me?”
“Yes, sir!” she said immediately, then ran toward the diner on Main Street. While her work ethic was commendable, her attention span was not.
Marigold cleaned up the mess with her wand and the celebration continued, having hardly skipped a beat.
At midnight, everyone had regathered at the altar, awaiting the Magistra’s next words. Parents with young or tired children would normally leave at this time. The other citizens would all go to the cemetery to honor the departed. Most would return in ghost form tonight, since the veil between worlds was thin. The march would be all the way to Misty Pines Cemetery on the west side of town.
“Into the depth of night,” she said loudly, “all ye with love in your heart!”
“Blessed be,” the crowd said in unison.
They began their march toward the forest.
The Necromancer grinned. The time for his deed was nearing.
Zoe and her father were walking through The Hallowed Forest with the rest of the group. Torches lit the way, but visibility was limited. Zoe felt an itch of fear, but didn’t understand. She had never been scared of the woods.
“Someone is plotting…” she hears whispered near her ear.
Zoe spun her head toward the voice, but saw nothing.
“Someone is plotting…” the whisper said again, in her other ear, and again she spun her head and saw nothing.
“Dad, do you hear that?” she asked.
“I hear a lot of things,” he said with a confused smile.
“No, like a whisper.”
Leo listened for a moment as they continued walking.
“I don’t hear anything,” he said. “Are you okay? You look pale.”
“I’m okay, just a little spooked.”
Her father stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. Aldo walked up from behind.
“Why did you stop?” Aldo asked.
As Zoe explained the sound, he lifted a hand to her forehead. As soon as his palm made contact, a massive jolt gripped Zoe’s head. She grabbed her head and cried out.
“Help her!” Leo said.
“Don’t touch her,” Aldo said, holding him back. “She’s having a vision.”
Leo stopped struggling, remembering Stacia’s visions, and how it could be dangerous to interrupt them.
Zoe could see nothing but a figure in a black, hooded robe, surrounded by fire. He was screaming unintelligible words. The sky lit up blood red as a bolt of lightning hit near them, shaking the ground.
“Something bad is happening!” the young witch screamed again.
Zoe’s knees buckled and she fell to them. No one tried to stop or help her. After the flash she came back completely normal.
“What’s wrong?” she asked suddenly, focused on Leo’s wet eyes, then the large crowd that had stopped to see the commotion.
“It’s alright, Zoe,” Aldo said. “You had a vision. Can you tell me what you saw?”
Some of the crowd murmured, remembering that Stacia had had powerful visions.
Zoe blinked in thought.
“I don’t remember,” she said. “Sorry, gramps.”
“It’s alright, punkin,” Leo said as he stood up with her, then took her hand. “Are you okay? For real this time?”
Zoe let out a small laugh of relief.
“Yes, dad,” she said, then to Aldo: “Gramps, can we mind-to-mind so you can see what I saw?”
“I wouldn’t recommend it for this one. I could be trapped in the vision. But don’t worry, it will come to you in time.”
Zoe nodded and continued on the path to the cemetery, trying to seem calm. Inside, fear was eating at the edges of her brain.
Maybe I’ll figure it out at the cemetery, she thought. It wouldn’t come to her but something else would.
The Necromancer was preparing a distraction to cover his sneaking away from the group, but Zoe did it for him by yelling something and causing everyone to look at her.
A few minutes later, he reached the edge of the forest and the beginning of the marsh. He stopped next to living rock and donned his disguise, a simple, black robe with a deep hood that hid his face. Even Ash, his will-o-the-wisp, didn’t know his true identity. Ash is just a servant to the Necromancer and is treated as one.
“Ash,” The Necromancer said quietly but forcefully. His voice was deeper and more gruff, another part of his disguise.
Seconds later, a fluorescent green light zipped through the marsh and stopped in front of him at chest height. The Necromancer commanded him to go, then followed, allowing Ash’s pale green light to show the way. What had taken hours of muddy trudging through the marsh to find took him only thirty minutes to get to with Ash knowing the way.
He stopped four feet away from five foot black marble obelisk planted loosely in the mud. He produced a handful of salt from a pouch on his belt and sprinkled it in a circle around the marker. The neat circle would keep the ghost he intended to summon from leaving, and prevent any unwanted interruptions from outside. While removing the protection spells from the ritual tools, The Necromancer glanced at the grave marker and reminisced.
GREGORY GRIMM was all it said. The epitaph had worn away long ago. Gregory had been an an infamous black magic warlock, but had even more remarkably fathered a daughter, Phyllis Grimm.
Phyllis had been born and raised in the black magic life style, and was startled when she found herself in love with a white magic warlock, Philip Vale. To avoid the scorn of their family, they ran away and married in secret. The three person ceremony took place under the blue light of a new moon, directly where the Moonlight Valley town center would later stand.
With the assistance of Philip, Phyllis bound her powers, and they founded the white magic town that they hoped to raise their children in. Philip had been the founder of Zoe’s school, The Paragon Academy of Magic. Phyllis had changed her surname to Vale withdrawing all record she had ever been a Grimm.
Phyllis had had no regrets, but her father had spent his life trying to find her so she would return to the city he ruled in Greenland. Twenty five years after leaving, she felt his spirit move on, the result of a curse unknowingly placed on him by his young warlock apprentice.
A curse that afflicted the victim with constant nightmares, had driven Gregory Grimm to insanity. The town rulers took action when he was found casting random curses on citizens, tasking his apprentice with using a fatal curse to end the madness.
The Meordusax, also known as the killing curse, had quickly brought an end to Gregory.
Phyllis had successfully found her father’s body and buried him deep in The Hallowed Forest. The burial plot was a sad grand opening of the town’s new, but short lived, cemetery.
Initially, she had visited the site daily. Her sadness had been deep, but healthy. As time went on, however, the sadness turned into a deepening depression that got worse with every visit. When the ground around the grave soured and began spreading, she began being plagued by evil visions. It had been the last straw for Phyllis. With the help of her husband and an elf officer, they had determined that the ground had somehow been tainted. It was then covered with a protection spell and abandoned, eventually being taken over by the marsh and forgotten.
The veil between worlds was thin, and getting thinner as midnight on Samhain approached. Gregory Grimm was about to have a very important role in The Necromancer’s plans to return to Regina’s city with great power. With the help of Gregory Grimm he would learn the killing curse while offering the ghost ally the ability to become powerful again. The Necromancer felt with the right power he would succeed in his plans of life. To become High Priest by Regina’s side even if he had to do it with force.
Misty Pines Cemetery was bustling with Moonlighters, both with the living and the six ever present spirits. A low fog curled around their legs and mostly obscured the lush grass underfoot and pine trees at the perimeter. Magistra Daria Rane and Magister Eryx Wiggins stood in the center. Tasia and her two younger children had left shortly before, leaving Eryx’s oldest daughter, Ruby, to keep him company. She stood a few feet away with the rest of her classmates.
Daria waved her wand, pushing the fog to the borders of the cemetery. The crowd gathered loosely around plots of family members and friends, preparing for the communing.
“You who lived yesterday,” Daria began in a commanding but respectful voice, “I call you from our mind to yours. Come back from the shadows into the light. Show yourselves here.”
“Blessed be,” the crowd replied. All except Zoe, who was too buried in her own swarm of emotions and nerves to pay attention.
Daria dripped some wax on Phyllis Vale’s grave and the town waited. The fog began creeping back into the cemetery, but it gave off a cerulean blue glow. A gentle breeze passed through, swirling the fog around Phyllis grave stone. Daria walked doesil around the gravestone, thirteen times then faced forward.
The earth trembled and groaned lowly. Excited murmurs spread through the crowd as shapes began to emerge above various graves.
While Aldo waited patiently for his wife Tempe, to appear, something at the edge of Zoe’s peripheral vision caught her attention. She had long and secretly feared seeing her mother’s ghost some day, and what she had seen sent an icicle into her heart.
Zoe grabbed a candle, turned silently, and walked toward the entity. Aldo and Leo were both too focused on Tempe corporealizing to notice. She couldn’t see entity’s face, and just as it was about to become clearer, it turned and moved into the forest.
Long black hair, silver garments, the movement, it couldn’t be her, but the rational part of Zoe’s brain seemed to be in shock as well. It managed to send out one word of warning as she passed through the back gate and deep into the woods:
The young warlock had been a regular boy once, living the first ten years of his life in the Outside. For as long as he could remember, he had been housed at Portland Orphanage. All he knew was that he had been abandoned, left only with a note.
Back then, he had had detailed plans for his life, none of which involved actually being accepted into a family. But the Cruz family changed all that. The adoption process was quick, quicker than the warlock thought possible, and before he could take a breath, he was settling into his new home in Moonlight Valley.
He had never believed in magic. When the occasional magician had clumsily entertained at his orphanage, he always figured out the tricks right away. But when he first saw the town, his jaw had dropped. There was no explanation other than real magic.
After arriving home, Demetrio and Irene sat him down and explained why they had adopted him. All of the strange occurrences that had followed him all his life were indications of his magic ability, and they wanted to give him the opportunity to grow up in an open and encouraging environment.
He had taken to magic right away, especially when his adoptive brother, Miquel, practiced with him. Unfortunately, Miquel wasn’t around very often due to his attending an Outsider college. After a month, his longing to return to the familiarity of the orphanage faded, and he embraced Moonlight Valley as his real home.
Ahead of twelve year old warlock, the young witch with black hair walked quickly to the edge of the cemetery, took a candle, and moved into the forest with purpose. His deeply ingrained tendency to help people his own age before telling an adult kicked in, and he followed quietly.
The fog swirled around his feet as he entered the forest. He doesn’t know why he is following yet he feels he must. He feels she will need help. He would be right.
The moon loomed overhead, full, bright, and at its apex.
The Necromancer faced west and moved his wand in a circle.
“Ignis circuli!” he said. As if a gas supply had been suddenly popped open, a circle of flame puffed out around him and the grave marker. It caused a waft of stench from his nearby cauldron, bubbling with with marsh water, sage, bay leaves, and cloves.
The Necromancer held up his hands then said,”Gergorius Grimm conjuro te facera iussa sunt in terra viventium.”
In the Void it would be heard as “Gregory Grimm, I summon you to me the world of the living.”
He waved his wand again, and the single black candle on the grave stone ignited. He focused on Gregory Grimm.
“Et nunc divide per magnum,”said the Necromancer.
That would be translated to “Come now through the great divide.”
The Necromancer focused, and before long, a bolt of red lightning struck the stone. The ground shook, seeming to loosen up a dark blue mist from the grave. It took the shape of a man.
“I am free…of the Void!” the shape exclaimed, then looked around. “Where am I?”
“In your place of rest,” The Necromancer answered. “I’ve summoned you.”
“Then you are a good necromancer,” Gregory said. The shape was solidifying, revealing hints of facial features and clothing. “But I am a greater warlock than you. Why have you summoned me?”
“I can bring you back, give you some kind of life again. But in return, I need the power to learn the Meordusax.”
“The killing curse?” The ghost laughed. It sounded like gravel sliding down a cement pipe. “You can’t know it, not without the correct power, and proper mastery of that power.”
“Then you’ll help me,” The Necromancer growled, his respectful attitude beginning to dissipate. Normally, his tone would have made Grimm depart immediately, but something was pulling at him. Perhaps the prospect of being released from The Void was too good to pass up. Then an idea struck him.
“Very well,” Grimm said, keeping his poker face. “But we’ll need my daughter. Hers is the power you seek.”
“I agree,” The Necromancer said. “I therefor invoke the Abiding Verbal Agreement.”
The invocation gave Grimm a moment of pause. If he broke it, devastating consequences would befall him, even as far as The Void. He had heard stories of others breaking the contract. It wasn’t good. He knew he had to do it. Plus, thoughts of revenge on his traitorous apprentice had begun to seep in. His decision made, Grimm held a hand out to The Necromancer.
“I agree to the Abiding Verbal Agreement,” he said.
The Necromancer wasted no time. He prepared and executed a simple ritual to exchange vital life force and energy from the ghost, then told Grimm the secret to being powerful.
Zoe followed the ghostly, silver clad woman at a brisk jog, but she couldn’t catch up. Her breathing was rapid and her feet hurt, making her momentarily wish that she had worn her combat boots to the ceremony. All attempts to get the ghost’s attention yielded no results. It simply flowed forward, never turning, never slowing.
She was familiar with residual ghosts. There were some in Moonlight Valley, all harmless. Like the ghost before her, residual ghosts payed no attention to communication attempts. But this ghost was different, it moved with purpose, and Zoe could almost feel it deliberately ignoring her.
Zoe had never been so deep into the forest, had never even seen Mortem Marsh, but she skidded to a stop where the noxious mud met the forest undergrowth. The action was unconscious, as Aldo and her father had repeatedly forbidden her to go there.
“Please, stop!” she cried. “That’s a bad place to go!”
The ghost paused and turned just as Zoe’s candle puffed out.
“Gobbledygook!” Zoe said, cursing the sudden darkness.
She stared desperately, willing her eyes to adjust to the darkness faster. Familiar features began to clarify as Zoe stepped closer, the border between marsh and forest momentarily forgotten. The glow drew her in like a bug light. She stopped a few feet away, her eyes wide.
The ghost’s face became clear, and Zoe’s heart sank slightly. It wasn’t her mother. But maybe…
“Excuse me,” Zoe said timidly. “Do you know my mother?”
The ghost simply nodded once. Zoe’s slightly sunken heart beat a little faster.
“Is she in The Afterworld?”
The ghost regarded her for a moment, then shook her head. Zoe let out a deep breath that she didn’t know she had been holding.
Zoe opened her mouth to ask another question when a freezing wind suddenly rushed all around her and through the ghost. The ghost’s face was contorted into a silent scream. She held her hands up, seemingly defending herself against a threat that only she could see.
The ghost dissipated into the ground, frozen in fear. Seconds later, a fog crawled along the ground as if the apparition had never even been there.
Zoe stared for a moment, then panicked as she realized where she was, and that she was suddenly alone. The darkness was thick, and seemed to block the moonlight light a cloud. She looked behind her at where the forest had been only moments before, but there was only more marsh.
Zoe nearly jumped out of her shoes, then shook her head as she fumbled her phone out of a pocket.
My phone! Maybe I can call for help, she thought, but was disappointed to see the low battery warning flashing next to the “no signal” icon. Leo frequently reminded her to charge the phone before bed, but she still forgot from time to time. The lack of signal concerned her. She had never been anywhere in Moonlight Valley that didn’t get one.
Must be the marsh, she thought.
She turned it off to save power and check for a signal later.
Zoe trudged along, slowly at first, then jogging, then finally running. Her yelling seemed to be muted even in the silence.
Some time later, Zoe didn’t know how long, she slowed to a stop, gasping for air. A painful stitch pinched her left side. She sat on a low boulder to catch her breath and think.
“Azule!” she cried. It was a long shot, she knew. Wisps only responded to the proper commands, and she didn’t know it.
Her shoulders sagged and her spirit sank.
She knew nothing of the marsh but its madness. Zoe Bloom found herself alone and lost. She would remain that way unless someone would come. Someone would who would change everything.
The young warlock who followed Zoe hesitated at the border of the marsh, causing him to fall farther behind. He tried to yell, but was drowned out by it. Going in would be dangerous. He could get lost, or never find her, but there was no time to go back for help. With a longing glance at the woods behind him, he continued into the marsh.
It’s alright, he thought. You can do this.
His instincts were telling him to follow, and it felt like he was meant to help her.
She couldn’t be far ahead, so he went in the direction he had seen her last. Every few minutes, he’d get a feeling to change directions. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew it was towards the young witch.
The warlock thought he was getting close when the direction feeling was replaced by fear. He paused to evaluate the situation. Without knowing where to go and the marsh constantly changing, he had no choice but to call on a will-o-wisp.
Do this right. She needs me, he thought.
He took a deep breath and yelled, “When I seek a glow, you will show!”
A bright pink wisp sparked out of the mud and floated in front of him.
“Thank you,” he said, then addressed the wisp. “Please, will you guide me?”
The wisp danced up and down, which he hoped was a yes.
“I’ve lost my frie…,” he paused to correct himself, “I mean my neighbor. She’s shorter than me, black hair, green eyes, holiday robes. Can you help me find her?”
The wisp bounced another, more enthusiastic yes.
The boy knew that most wisps were good, but there was always the risk of a tricky, or even dangerous, one.
He had no choice but to trust his guide.
The moon was at it’s highest, and Zoe still didn’t know what to do. Crying and feeling sorry for herself had done nothing but make her more tired. She was cold, thirsty, and covered in mud, but she wanted nothing more than to lie down and close her heavy eyelids.
With a slow startle, she realized that the marsh was enchanting her, trying to get her to doze so it could swallow her. The marsh could sour people over time, and she had no idea if she’d been lost for minutes or days. She stood with resolve.
“I will not give up!” she yelled. “You will not win!”
Zoe didn’t have her powers, but she was no coward. She continued walking, challenging the marsh, but anxiously hoping for rescue. A faint light bobbed across the water ahead and her hope soared. With renewed hope, she ran toward it. The light resolved into a wisp and a boy that she didn’t recognize.
“Hey! Help!” Zoe cried.
The ball of light moved toward her quickly, with the boy in tow. When they reached each other, the witch hugged the warlock and cried with relief. The boy didn’t hug back, too shocked to move.
“I’m sorry,” she said after seeing the look on his face, and took a step back.
“It’s alright,” he replied between breaths.
Zoe eyed him closely. He stood a foot taller than her, with crew cut, brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. Like her, he wore holiday robes and muddy black shoes. It took her a moment to place him.
“You’re my neighbor. Chico, right?” she asked. “What on Earth are you doing here?”
“Um, well, I was looking for you,” he said.
“Why? How did you know I was out here?”
Chico looked down at his shoes awkwardly.
“I saw you leave the cemetery, and had the feeling that I should follow you. Then when you went into the marsh, it felt like you needed help.”
Zoe nodded, suddenly feeling awkward herself. She had long been curious about the boy, and she didn’t feel any menace. It felt right, like a good thing.
“Well, thank you. I do need help.”
“So it’s okay that I came?” he asked, looking up.
“Yes, and your timing was perfect. I’m ready to go home. I’m so tired.”
“Yeah, it’s rough out here,” he said, then turned to the wisp. “Will you guide us out, please?”
The wisp bounced.
“She said ‘yes,’” Zoe said.
Chico looked at her with raised eyebrows.
“How do you know it’s a girl?” he asked.
“I heard her voice.”
“I didn’t know anyone could hear them?” he asked skeptically.
“I didn’t know I could, but I just heard her.” Zoe nodded at the wisp. “And I’m sorry. My name is Zoe, and you’ve met Chico. Who are you?”
The wisp jiggled and Zoe turned back to Chico.
“Her name is Pinx,” she said, then turned back to the wisp. “Nice to meet you, Pinx. Thank you for guiding us.”
Pinx bobbed, then moved away, staying ahead, but close enough to keep Chico and Zoe lit as they moved through the squishy mud.
“So, you can hear wisps. That’s cool,” he said, watching as Zoe nodded to the wiggling wisp. “What is she saying?”
Zoe faced forward.
“She wants us to know that she’s always been a good wisp, even before the enchantment. Even with other malicious wisps nearby, she would sneak people out of the marsh.”
“Also, she wants to be our friend.”
“I’d like that,” he said with a big smile.
Pinx bobbed and continued as they walked.
“So, why don’t you ever talk to anyone?” Zoe asked Chico.
“All this magic stuff is new to me. I’m still adjusting,” he said. “I was never shy at the orphanage, but it’s just overwhelming sometimes. I find it easier to stay quiet and avoid attention.”
“My dad told me a little about you. What was it like growing up in the Outside?”
“There were a lot of rules,” he said, then shrugged. “Like here, but different. No magic. And having internet was great. I did a lot of gaming, chatting, Facebook. I don’t even have a computer or phone. The Cruzs won’t allow it but I think my half brother, Miquel is going to help me with. We’ll see.”
“I have internet,” Zoe said. “You can come over any time to use it.”
Chico was interested, but didn’t show it. He still wasn’t sure if he wanted to disturb the routine that he had build for himself. Especially with his confidence just starting to come back.
It’s time I get back in the game of life, he decided.
“I’ll take you up on that,” he said, already feeling better.
Zoe smiled and remembered her wish earlier for a friend. Maybe it had come true. Although she didn’t have a choice, there was something to be said about entrusting her life to the boy and his wisp companion. They were fast becoming friends.
Zoe’s stomach grumbled, and she remembered the skeleton cookies that she had saved earlier. She handed one to Chico. Both kids gobbled them in a few bites.
She started to ask him what Facebook is when a loud plop sounded behind them. Zoe stopped and turned.
“Did you hear that?” she asked.
“Yeah, it’s getting closer,” he said, nodding.
“What is it, Pinx?” Zoe asked.
The wisp bobbed and shivered. Zoe shrugged.
“I guess she has to focus pretty hard to guide us,” she said.
Plop. Closer. Pinx stopped, then danced wildly up and down.
“Okay, she heard it,” Zoe said, trying to understand the frantically speaking Wisp. “She keeps saying something about ‘Bogey.’ Do you know what that is?”
“Bogey?” he asked, sudden alarm on his face.
Zoe nodded and Chico looked around nervously.
Chico made the right call but it wouldn’t be enough.
“Zoe?” Leo asked, looking around. To Aldo, he asked, “Did you see Zoe leave?”
Aldo and Tempe both shook their heads.
“I’m going to look for her,” Leo said with concern.
“Wait,” Tempe said. “It’s time for me to return. Why don’t you help Leo?”
Aldo nodded then said goodbye to his wife. Leo scanned the thinning crowd for Zoe. The ghosts present for the holiday were returning to the Afterworld and people were saying their goodbyes. He checked his phone for messages, then called Zoe. It went straight to voice mail, so he sent a text.
Punkin, it’s time to go home. Call or text me back right away.
“I can’t get a hold of her,” Leo said to Aldo. They had begun scanning the cemetery and asking if anyone had seen Zoe. “This isn’t like her. She always tells me where she’s going to be.”
“Maybe she’s tired, or forgot,” Aldo suggested. “Let’s check your house first.”
Leo agreed, and they headed back through the woods.
There were no lights on, but if Zoe had turned in early, they wouldn’t be. Leo rushed inside, calling for her all over the house. Her bed wasn’t made and the comforter was on the floor like she left it every morning. She hadn’t been home. Worry gnawed at Leo.
“She’s not here,” he said, coming downstairs. “I don’t think she’s been home at all.
“I’ll text her,” Aldo said, taking out his parchment and quill. Moments later they heard a chirp from upstairs. Leo ran up the stairs again and found Zoe’s backpack with her parchment inside.
“She left it,” Leo said, out of breath from his two runs up and down the stairs.
“Let’s try scrying for her,” Aldo said. “Do you know where her map and crystal are?”
Leo shook his head.
“It’s a mess up there, and I don’t even know what I’m looking for. Why don’t you look, and I’ll put some coffee on?”
Aldo nodded and headed up to Zoe’s room.
Leo set a cup of steaming coffee in front of Aldo and sat across from him at the kitchen table.
“I had to use a finding spell,” Aldo said, “but it was there. I was hoping that school would help her get more organized.”
“She tries, Aldo. Please just find her.”
Aldo spread the detailed Moonlight Valley map out on the table and held up a white quartz on a silver chain. Scrying was used by magic users to track each other. It wasn’t difficult, especially for Aldo. He had even taught Zoe how to do it at eight.
Holding the crystal over the map, he waited patiently as it slowly circled around the map. But all it did was circle, it didn’t dip or stick to any specific location.
“Something is wrong,” Aldo said.
“What?” Leo asked. Panic was causing his voice to rise in volume and tone. “Is she in trouble?”
“Leo, scrying can’t tell me that,” Aldo explained patiently. “There’s no cause to worry yet. Let me try again.”
Leo didn’t feel any better. He knew little of the magical version of Lojack.
The crystal circled again, then suddenly jerked out of Aldo’s hand and landed on the table, off the map. Aldo looked confused.
“She’s not in Moonlight,” he said. “Unless…”
“Unless what?” Leo asked.
Aldo suddenly stood, his chair sliding back a few feet and bumping the table, causing his coffee to slosh out. Leo looked at him with alarm.
“The most likely explanation is that she’s in the marsh,” Aldo said. It was Leo’s turn to stand suddenly. The result was the same: a pushed chair and spilled coffee. Neither of them paid attention to the coffee as it made its way to the edge of the table and dripped onto the floor.
“Mortem Marsh?” Leo asked urgently. “She would never go there, she knows how dangerous it is.”
“I’ve warned her too, Leo. But she’s either there, or in the Outside.”
“She wouldn’t have left Moonlight on her own. Not after what happened earlier with the woman.”
Leo looked at the map, concern etched on his face.
“Let’s leave immediately. I’ll leave Marigold a message to text Verdelet if we’re not back by sunrise.”
Leo has already experienced tragedy with Stacia, his wife, missing. He could not handle losing Zoe too. This is a disaster for him. He had to find her. They would look.
Gregory Grimm stalked angrily along the edge of Misty Pines Cemetery. His anger had gone from a simmer to a boil while following Ash out of the marsh. Not that he had needed a guide; he could sense the path on his own. The Necromancer may have struck a deal with him, but he didn’t need to share all of his secrets. Gregory was focused on revenge, punishing the apprentice. Alive or dead, the apprentice was going to be tormented.
The cemetery still had a few stragglers, so Gregory continued pacing just out of view. He couldn’t have any witnesses to what he was about to do. Plus, he didn’t have the normal appearance of a ghost. Instead of the usual humanoid shape, he was just blue and somewhat formless.
It had been 300 years, all spent in The Void, since he last saw the cemetery and town. Neither were recognizable. The Necromancer had infused a map into Gregory’s mind, at least.
A green goblin was the last to leave, closing both gates behind him, then disappearing. Six ghosts remained, too many to handle at once, but few enough that he could risk seeing if he still had some charm after all these years. Gregory stepped over the low fence and approached a female ghost in a wedding dress. Her hands covered her face and she wept quietly.
“Dear lady,” he said softly, “what has you in such sorrow?”
“Who are you?” she asked wetly, looking up.
“I’m new,” he said.
Apparently it was enough of an explanation for her, because she nodded and went back to weeping.
“I can help,” Gregory whispered, trying to get her to look into his eyes. He waited patiently as she collected herself.
“You know where my fiance is?”
He took her hand in his blue, hand shaped extremity. The shape of fingers was forming and he smiled inwardly. The girl didn’t seem to care or even notice that he didn’t look like the rest of them.
Gregory’s grip tightened. The ghost’s eyes went from sadness to alarm, then empty and entranced.
Chico didn’t seem to have a problem keeping up with Pinx, but Zoe was winded. Her heart pounded deafeningly in her ears.
“I have to rest,” she said gasping. “Just for a minute.”
“We don’t have a minute, Zoe. That bogey is gaining on us.”
“What’s the big deal, anyway?” she asked.
The question brought Chico to a stop and Zoe caught her breath.
“They abduct children,” Chico said, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Nobody ever hears from them again.”
Zoe’s eyes widened.
“Okay,” she said. “Just slow the pace. I can’t keep up with you two.”
Chico agreed, knowing that he couldn’t live with himself if he left her behind, and there was no way he could carry her the rest of the way.
Pinx bounced up and down a few times.
“What’s she saying?” Chico asked.
“We have to get off the ground. She knows where there is a tree, a tall one. It’ll confuse the bogey. She’ll show us the way.”
Pinx zipped ahead. Wet, plopping footsteps grew louder.
“Go!” Zoe told Chico. “I’ll catch up. I’m hurt.”
She thought that she had just slightly twisted her ankle, but the pain had set it quickly after they stopped. There was no way she could put weight on it. Chico looked behind them nervously.
“I’ll help” he said, then stood shoulder to shoulder with her. “Put your weight on me.”
She threw an arm over Chico’s shoulder and they hobbled along after Pinx. The plopping continued growing in volume. By the time they reached Pinx, they were both sweating and huffing.
Pinx darted around the base of a lone, dead tree. Zoe scrambled from branch to branch, careful not to use her hurt foot. The three stopped about twenty feet up. Pinx dimmed until she was barely visible. A minute later, the bogey shuffled into view.
The first thing Zoe noticed was the smell. It was an awful rotted water stench. It snuffled like it had a nose full of mucus. Grey skin hung loosely from strong muscles. The head was large and almost block like, had ram like horns, and gills on the neck. Large fangs jutted from it’s distorted mouth and large, red, sorrowful eyes scanned its surroundings.
The bogey stopped and sniffed at the air. When it turned, it’s long arms nearly scraped the mud. As it stood, it slowly sank into the mud up to its knees.
It moved toward the tree and Zoe nearly slipped off of her branch, but Chico grabbed her arm just in time. As she smiled a thank you at him, he lost his own footing.
“Help!” he cried as he bounced from branch to branch.
Chico landed flat on his back with a loud thwump, knocking the wind out of him. His heart knocked in his ears and bright white stars danced in his vision. He shook his head.
Pinx raced down after him. Having no other options to help Chico, she concentrated and flared as brightly as she could. The bogey roared wetly, dove into the mud.
Zoe was already taking advantage of the distraction, scrambling down the trees and panicking to figure out how to save them. Even though it was short, the connection she felt with Chico was strong. Like they had always been friends.
When she hit the ground, a scummy grey hand burst from the ground under Pinx, reaching and gripping blindly.
She was shaking Chico, trying to get him up and moving, when the hand found his ankle. Zoe grabbed him by the wrists and pulled him away, but the bogey’s second hand slopped out of the mud onto Chico’s other ankle.
It was too much strength for Zoe to fight. Her feet dug into the mud but they were both being pulled toward the bogey.
Bees! she thought. When she was younger, her mother Zoe had automatically repelled a bee that she thought might sting her. She hadn’t done the spell again for there was no need for it. Now it was all she could think of. She hoped it would work on something much larger.
“I need to let go of you!” she said to Chico. And she did. Zoe needed both hands for the spell.
Chico looked at her, his eyes wide with panic, but he said nothing and simply nodded.
Zoe didn’t hesitate. She released Chico and held her hands, palms out, at the bogey as it emerged from the mud, long fingered sucker covered hands pulling at Chico.
“Repellere!” she yelled.
The bogey was lifted bodily up and backwards, like a bungee jumper just after hitting the bottom of a fall. The bogey landed twenty feet away.
“It worked!” she yelped.
Zoe focused on Chico and got him back on his feet. He was still wobbly, but could move on his own. They looked toward the bogey, but it had sunk under the surface.
They ran as quickly as they could, Zoe being slowed by her ankle and Chico still dazed from the fall. The bogey didn’t pursue, and they reached a safe distance a few minutes later.
With their backs against a tree, they tried to catch their breath.
“You saved me,” Chico said.
“And you saved me,” Zoe replied.
“That’s what friends do.”
“Are we friends?” she asked. “I’ve never had a friend before.”
Chico smiled and put a hand on her shoulder.
“You do now.”
“Maybe we can start a club for rejects at school,” Zoe said with a laugh.
“Proud rejects,” Chico said, laughing as well. “I’ll start recruiting!”
Even though they had just escaped great danger, Zoe was happy. Zoe never expected to experience so much when she woke this morning. She can’t think of anything worse that could happen to her so she thinks the bogey must have been what the vision was about. It wasn’t and there would be more to come.
“Looks like we’re here,” Leo said as his shoe squished into the beginning of the marsh.
“Azule!” Aldo yelled. They waited a moment, then the wisp zipped up in front of them. “Azule, do you know where Zoe is?”
The wisp bounced.
“Good. Please take us to her.”
They walked for what felt like hours to Leo. He worried and fretted over the dangers he knew to be in the marsh. But Aldo had never failed them, so Leo trusted him to see them all out safely.
Leo recalled a story that Stacia had told him. When she had told her father that she intended to marry an Outsider, he didn’t blink. His only concern was that Leo was a good man at heart, which Stacia assured Aldo that he was. At their wedding, Aldo had cried, joyful that his daughter was marrying the kindest Outsider he had ever known.
Azule darted ahead when they all saw a pink glow and two children walking their way.
“It’s them!” Aldo cried. They both jogged to Zoe and Chico, Leo ever cautiously staying behind Aldo.
“Zoe!” Leo cried.
Azule and Pinx lit the way and reunited the group. Zoe smashed into her father, both hugging one another fiercely. Zoe had a deep pang of guilt about not having told her father that she was leaving the cemetery.
“Are you okay?” Leo asked her.
“Tired, and twisted my ankle, but just fine,” Zoe replied, then proudly added: “We saved each others lives!”
Leo pulled back from the hug and looked Zoe in the eyes.
“What happened?” he demanded with concern.
“Let’s get back to the safety of my house,” Aldo suggested, “then we can hear all about it.”
Pinx and Azule, already in position, began leading them back to Aldo’s house.
“Zoe,” Leo asked, “Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“I’m sorry, dad,” Zoe said, sheepishly looking down at her feet. “I forgot to charge it, and I didn’t bring my parchment. I need to be better prepared for this stuff.”
“I know you don’t get reception in the marsh, but you need to at least have the phone charged. I’ll help remind you.”
She nodded and held his hand.
“And Chico, are you okay?” Aldo asked.
“Yes, sir,” Chico said. “Please don’t be too hard on Zoe. I saw her leave and I could have told someone, but I didn’t.”
“I’m never hard on her,” Leo said. “But I can’t decide anything until I hear what happened.”
Both of the children nodded.
“Do your parents know where you are, Chico?” Aldo asked.
“No, sir. I just followed Zoe. I don’t have my parchment either.”
“I’ll text to let them know that you’re safe.
Chico was relieved. Having Aldo explain what happened might keep the Cruzs calmer.
That’s how he thought of them. Not mom or dad, just the Cruzs or Demetrio and Irene. They had always been good to him, but going into marsh had been specifically forbidden. He doubted that he’d ever feel comfortable calling them mom and dad after this. He also hoped that his honesty would ease any anger they might feel. In the orphanage, he had been mistakenly accused of many things, and he had discovered that honesty really was the best policy.
When they neared Aldo’s porch, Marigold saw them from the kitchen. She had been wide awake and worried sick.
“I’m glad you’re all in one piece!” she said as she ushered them in. “I was just about to text Verdelet.”
“Thank you for waiting up, Marigold,” Aldo said. “I’ll put tea on for us all.”
“And I’ll get these kids in the bath. Don’t you two touch a thing!”
It was a happy but genuine request.
Marigold fluttered to the first bathroom, began filling the tub, and put in a generous scoop of her special mix. She then repeated the process with the second bathroom.
By the time she finished, everyone had gathered in the kitchen. Marigold shooed the children out.
“Please put your clothes by the door,” she requested. “I’ll have them clean before you are done.”
Zoe shut the door and tested the water with her fingers. It was the perfect temperature. She bathed quickly but thoroughly, and had to fight the urge to sleep the entire time. Her body ached from the running and adrenaline.
Chico felt better in the safety and comfort of Aldo’s home. He liked Zoe, and her father seemed nice. He fretted again, feeling like he was putting the Cruzs to a test. Like he needed to see their reaction to the matter. He was nowhere near calling him his parents but this could be a step.
Marigold scrubbed away, confident that her dash of Marigold’s Mix would get the marsh muck out. She rinsed and inspected the garments, then dried them with her wand. Air drying was her preferred method, but the children wouldn’t be awake long enough for that.
Zoe finished first, and Chico a few minutes later. Chico wore an oversized robe, compliments of Aldo. Zoe wore her robe, hat, and socks. She still refused to wear the pointy shoes. Not just because they were annoying, but they had also caused two painful blisters. She vowed to wear combat boots, holiday or no holiday.
No more pointy shmointy shoes for me! she thought as she entered the kitchen. A cup of tea waited for her in front of an empty seat at the table. All she wanted to do was sleep, but she owed the adults an explanation.
“Thank you for the tea,” she said. “I guess I’ll start at the cemetery…”
They had each gone through a cup of tea and a refill by the time Zoe and Chico were done telling the tale.
“And you repelled the bogey without a wand?” Aldo asked.
“Yeah, just like I did to a bee once,” she replied, wondering why he sounded confused. “I had to save my friend.”
Aldo nodded, impressed and a little worried. It was a great deal of power for her to have so young, although her mother had shown similar signs. Never as strong as Zoe’s seemed to be, though. Aldo doubted that Stacia would have been able to fight off a bogey so successfully. Aldo couldn’t remember if there had ever been a Winter that could repel.
Aldo would continue to keep a watchful eye on her and inform the Elders. Black magic normally manifested more powerfully at a young age. And though there had never been a black magic user in their blood line, it wasn’t an impossibility. Power like hers could wreak havoc if not kept in check. He would know for sure in two month’s time.
He decided to bring it up with Leo after the children went to sleep.
“Thank you for helping my daughter, Chico,” Leo said with a squeeze to his shoulder. Chico momentarily recoiled. He didn’t like being touched, and Leo took a mental note of it.
“Zoe did all the work,” Chico said, shyly looking into his tea cup.
“Well, I shouldn’t have led you in there in the first place,” Zoe said.
“Yeah, but…” Chico began.
“I think it’s best that we all just be thankful that you’re both okay,” Leo said.
The children both nodded. A short silence filled the room before Marigold interrupted it.
“Well, this has been a long Samhain,” Marigold said. “Does anyone need anything before I go to bed?”
They all shook their head and Aldo thanked her.
“Do you want me to walk you home, Chico?” Aldo offered. “I could speak with your parents.”
“No, thank you. Your text will be enough, Mr. Winter.”
Chico stood to leave, then Zoe stood as well.
“I’ll walk him out,” she said.
“Don’t be too long,” Leo said.
They walked through the hallway to the front porch. When they were out of sight, Aldo turned to Leo.
“I need to talk to you about Zoe,” he said.
“It can’t wait until morning?” Leo asked, stifling a yawn.
“No. With things like this, we need to be vigilant.”
Leo nodded and Aldo continued.
“I don’t want to alarm you, but Zoe may have been right about her power.”
“That it’s bad?” Leo asked.
“Not ‘bad.’ Black.”
“But it can’t be, right? The Winters have always been white magic.”
“We have been,” Aldo said with a sigh. “But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”
Leo was becoming visibly worried.
“Does Zoe know that?” he asked. “I don’t want to be lying when I tell her not to worry about it.”
“We try not to worry the children,” Aldo said, then paused. “I’m sorry, Leo. I should have told you, but I’ve never seen any signs until tonight. The way she describes it, that’s much too powerful for someone without the born right power, plus no wand. The repel is a rare magic that I don’t know much about.”
“So maybe she got lucky. There’s always some form of luck in magic.”
“Not like this, Leo,” Aldo said sympathetically, then sighed. “I have to tell the Elders.”
“What?” Leo said loudly. He realized his mistake and checked to see that the children were still on the porch. More quietly, he continued. “Why do we have to involve the authorities? Can’t she choose her own path?”
“Unfortunately not. Once a person comes into their power, be it black or white, it’s forever. But there are options.”
“What options?” Leo asked. “Exile?”
“No, of course not! But if she wanted to stay here, her powers would have to be bound by the Magistra.”
Leo’s continued looking more and more worried, so Aldo change his approach.
“You know I love her, right?” he asked softly.
“Of course, Aldo.”
“Then trust that I’ll do what’s best for her. Besides, I’m just telling you what could happen. There’s no sense in fretting yet. And I’ll tell you what. I won’t tell the Elders until you tell me that it’s okay to.”
“Thank you. I would really appreciate that. What should I look out for?”
“Mainly unusual bursts of power,” Aldo said.
“Like that door on Halloween?” Leo asked. “Why didn’t Verdelet say something then?”
“It was her first incident,” Aldo explained. “If he knew about this, I’m sure he’d draw the same conclusions that I did.”
“Alright,” Leo said, then yawned. “I guess it’s time for us to head home.”
With perfect timing, Zoe walked in from the porch.
“Everything okay, dad?” she asked. “I thought I heard you yell.”
“No, punkin’. I just got excited.”
Aldo and Leo stood, then walked to the door.
“Night, gramps!” Zoe said, hugging him. “And thank you.”
“I love you, Zoe,” Aldo said. “And this is for the blisters.”
He slipped a bottle of one of his concoctions into her pocket.
Leo and Aldo said there goodbyes and began their short walk home.
Zoe was excited about having a new friend, but she knew that sleep would take her as soon as she laid her head down.
She yawned, and hoped for a dreamless sleep. Before she fell asleep she smiled at the thought that she had a friend now.
With a friend I can handle anything, she thought then dozed.
It was the beginning of a journey for her.
Tuesday, the following day, Zoe woke suddenly, excitement already coursing through her. Chico is coming over to hang out, the first school friend to see her outside of it. She nearly jumped out of the bed, then went to her closet to pick out an outfit.
She chose a Z Nation shirt, pants, and combat boots, all black. Vasaam, the school principal, had initially disliked her zombie themed clothing choices, but ended up giving in.
Zoe then sat at her vanity. She did a quick brush of her hair, then applied a touch of purple eye shadow and clear lip gloss. Her father approved of her makeup, as long as she didn’t lay it on too thick.
After a final inspection in her vanity mirror, Zoe made her way downstairs to the kitchen. Her father looked well rested, sitting at the table, reading a magazine, and enjoying a breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and a blueberry muffin.
“Morning, punkin’,” he said. “How did you sleep?”
“Great. No nightmares,” she said with a smile. And it was true. She didn’t think she’d be able to take two nights of nightmares in a row.
Zoe took her plate of food from the oven, where Leo had been keeping it warm, and sat down with her parchment.
Chico – I’m up. Why don’t you come by in an hour? she wrote.
“This is the first time you’ve had a friend over in, what, two years?” he asked. “What are you guys going to do?”
“Probably just video games,” Zoe answered around a mouthful of scrambled egg.
As she continued eating, Leo watched her. Concern and confusion bounced around in his head, so he distracted himself.
“Do you want to go through your Halloween candy?” he asked.
“Yeah!” she said, then ate the last of her bacon. She put her plate in the dishwasher and ran upstairs for the plastic pumpkin. While she was upstairs, Leo cleared the table and poured them some orange juice. Zoe came down the stairs a moment later.
She set the pumpkin on the table and poked through the candy.
“It’s more fun if you spill it all out,” Leo said.
Zoe turned the pumpkin over and flooded the table with her loot. She was enthusiastic at first, but kept glancing at her parchment.
“Don’t worry,” Leo told her. “He’ll text you. You kids had a late night.”
“I know, but I don’t have a good track record with friends.
“This is going to be different,” he said with a hand on her shoulder. “I can tell that Chico really cares.”
“Maybe,” Zoe said with a sigh.
They continued picking through the candy. Leo picked out some Tootsie Rolls and bubble gum, his favorites, but Zoe didn’t seem interested in anything but watching her parchment.
“Would you mind if I waited in my room and read?” she asked. Zoe couldn’t stop worrying that he had overslept, or forgot that they had made plans.
Leo nodded with understanding. Zoe kissed him on the cheek and made her way upstairs, where she plopped onto her bed and turned on her Kindle. After a few minutes of trying to read Zombie Fallout, her latest book series, she gave up and grabbed her laptop from the bedside table. When a Monster High movie wouldn’t keep her focus, she decided to text him again.
Isn’t saving someone supposed to form some kind of bond? she wrote. But before sending it, a message from Chico appeared. She erased her message and read his.
Hey, I’m on my way, it said.
Her excitement and happiness were back in a flash. Knowing that he was nearly there relieved her enough to focus on the movie, even if it did make her jealous of the kids with all the friends. Still, it kept her distracted long enough for Chico to arrive.
“Chico Cruz at the door,” the knocker announced.
Zoe practically flew downstairs to the front door just as her father was about to open it.
“Do you want to let him in?” he asked.
“I’ll bring you something to snack on in an hour or so,” he said.
Chico was standing on their porch with a bright smile when she opened the door. He wore jeans, black sneakers, and a shirt with the Tomb Raider logo on it. They greeted one another happily and headed upstairs to Zoe’s room.
“What’s your shirt?” the both asked each other at the same time.
Zoe told him about the show, and Chico told her about the video game.
“I have to try it,” she said. “I only have six games right now. I just bought Dead Island if you want to try it.”
Chico was about to answer when she opened the door to her room and he saw the mess inside. Her desk was cluttered with homework, the purple sheeted bed was unmade, the hamper was overflowing. Three posters were hung slightly misaligned: The Walking Dead on one, the band Combichrist on another, and Z Nation on the third.
Chico was momentarily stunned. He was organized and tidy, had been from a young age in the orphanage. Kids that didn’t keep a clean room didn’t get dessert.
“Sorry, is it too messy?” Zoe asked.
“No, I’m just not used to it is all” he said with a strained smile.
“Just give me a minute,” she said.
The minute was actually fifteen, which they spent talking about video games while Zoe made the room presentable. When she finished, she placed two bean bag chairs in the open area between her bed and desk.
“Red or purple?” she asked.
“It seems like purple is your preference, so I’ll take the red one.”
They sat, and Zoe produced her laptop.
“I am playing Dead Island if you want to try it,”said Zoe.
“What’s it about?”
“Zombies on an island that you have to fight as you quest,”said Zoe.
“Oh I love zombies!,”said Chico,”You should try Dead Rising 2,”
He explained the story and creativity aspects, then showed Zoe a trailer. She was convinced immediately.
“I’m cutting it close on my online allowance but I can get it,”said Zoe,”I’ll have to wait for the next one.”
“I can help pay for it,” he said. “If not, my birthday is next month, so maybe I’ll have more money.”
“It’s your birthday? Then I have to buy it for you,” Zoe said. She knew he couldn’t play it at home but he could at her house.
“No, that wouldn’t be right,” Chico said. “We just met, I don’t want to take from you already.”
“You said we were friends. Forever,” Zoe said with a fake pout. “That means that I get to give you a present.”
“But it’s expensive. Just get me something cheap if you have to get something at all.”
“It’s a present for me too, Chico,” she said seriously. “You have to come over to play, and your company is worth way more than the price of this game.”
“Okay, fine,” he said with a sheepish smile. “But you get to play first. You’re going to have fun with those crazy weapons.”
They spent the next hour devising various nasty weapons in the game and testing them out, then Leo knocked on the door frame.
“You two ready for some pizza rolls?” he asked, then did a double take at the cleanliness of her room. “When did this happen? And what have you done with my daughter?”
Zoe and Chico giggled all the way to the kitchen. The young witch could feel the glow of friendship within her. She would need it.
Ghost Grimm had been busy all night, but he was finally done. Six ghosts had had their essence taken from them to form his full ghostly body. It had taken longer because he didn’t know that he needed to be able to interact with the ghost. They needed to be able to see and hear him in order to be entranced.
He took a walk to The Reflecting Lake to inspect himself. The lake has been known to show the past and the future but right now it only shows the present, his reflection. It had been hundreds of years since he had seen it.
There were no visions, but he was impressed with his appearance. His signature crooked, yellow toothed grin was positively menacing as a ghost. Avoiding smiling would be best if he hoped to blend in with the other ghosts in town.
His skin still had a blue hue that made him look like a drowning victim, and it was tight on his face, making him look more haggard than he would prefer. The crow’s feet and frown lines were acceptable, as was the neck length beard and black hair.
Grimm felt lucky to have been buried in the white robe of a healer, which he had never been. It would have been hard to blend in with his black robe that had the Grimm family crest on the chest. The brown boots didn’t match, but the ensemble would work.
He headed back through the woods, toward town. He still hadn’t felt the surge of power that indicated that he was at full strength. He had to absorb more ghosts before he could succeed.
Time for some chaos, he thought.
“I think I’m done for now,” Chico said. They had been killing zombies by the hundreds between Dead Rising 2 and Dead Island. Zoe had taken much joy in driving zombies around in wheelchairs. It was like having a guy friend, although she had called the games “gross” a few times.
“Yeah, me too,” Zoe said. “What do you want to do? We can get on the internet, or I have my Kindle if you want to read.”
“I’d like to go to the Pantry for some candy, if that’s okay with you.”
“I have some!” she said excitedly, then retrieved the plastic Halloween pumpkin.
“You went trick or treating?” he asked, awestruck.
“Yeah, first time,” she said, then her smile disappeared. “But something bad happened.”
She sat and sighed. Chico looked on in fascination as she described the exploding door.
“I could be a black magic witch,” she said sadly.
“I don’t see how,” Chico said. “I hurt someone with my magic when I was seven.”
“You did?” Zoe asked with raised eyebrows. “Accidentally, or on purpose?”
“On purpose,” he said quietly, looking at the floor. “A boy, Chris, was picking on some younger girls. He was ten and they were four, and he had Mindy on the ground with her arms pinned behind her.”
Chico looked back up and saw that Zoe wasn’t completely horrified with him, so he continued.
“There were no adults, so I yelled at him. When that didn’t work, I tried to tackle him, but he shoved me to the ground like it was nothing.”
He took a deep breath.
“A pile of books hit him in the face.”
“That’s not so bad,” Zoe said.
“About five times.”
“Oh. Well, still. You just wanted to help Mindy.”
“Yeah,” he said quietly. “At the time, I didn’t even know that I had done it. I figured it out a few months later when I shattered a glass of apple juice when I barely touched it.”
“But it’s understandable,” Zoe said. “I hurt someone and I wasn’t trying to help anybody.”
“Well, if you weren’t thinking of hurting them and didn’t want to, then it’s not your fault,” he said, then paused for a moment to think. “It seems to me like a black magic witch would be out to hurt people. You don’t seem evil to me.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I really hope I’m not.”
“How about I keep an eye on you?” Chico suggested. “If it seems like you’re being bad, I’ll help.”
“Pinky promise?” she asked, holding her pinky finger out.
Chico linked his pinky finger with hers and they nodded. One of the most solemn of pacts had been made.
“Do you want anything in particular?” he asked as Zoe spread the candy out on the floor.
“Just a piece of gum.”
Chico looked at the candy, trying to remember.
“Here’s one,” he said, holding a hard ball of candy up. “But you have to be careful when you bite down. Sometimes they’re jawbreakers.”
“There’s a candy that breaks jaws?” Zoe asked with surprise.
“Not exactly,” Chico answered with a laugh. “They’re just really hard.”
“Oh, like Tongue Teasers at Pritchard’s Pantry.”
Chico nodded and Zoe put the candy in her mouth. She bit down carefully.
“Gum,” she said with a goofy smile around the wad of chewy candy.
Chico took one for himself, chewed it, then blew a small bubble. Zoe responded with a bubble of her own. They both laughed and stuffed more gum in their mouths until they were both up to six pieces. The final bubbles smooshed into each other and popped, deflating into a sheet down to their chest. They laughed uproariously.
“You’re a lot of fun, Chico,” Zoe said as they cleaned up the gum. “I used to play with the Kenning kids, but they always wanted to play hide and seek or tag, games like that.”
“You’re fun too,” Chico said. “I bet there aren’t a lot of gamers in Moonlight Valley.”
He held a fist out to her and she looked at it with confusion.
“It’s called a fist bump,” he explained. “It’s common on the outside.”
“But not common here,” she said. “It’ll be like our secret handshake. Or better yet, our reject handshake.”
They both smiled and bumped their fists.
“Would you like to go to the park?” Chico asked. “I like to get outside for a few hours every day.”
“Yeah, some fresh air sounds nice. Let’s go tell my dad.”
“I’d like to put the candy back,”said Chico.
Zoe nodded. They gathered up the candy and put it back in the pumpkin, then went downstairs. They both took the first step at a near run, then shook the walls pounding down, Chico skipping every other step.
Leo, not able to miss their thundering approach, had already set his book down and was looking at them expectantly when they entered the room.
“Dad, is it okay if we go to the park?” Zoe asked him.
“Sure, punkin’. Just meet me at your grandfather’s house in an hour and a half. We have to be there by seven.”
“Okay, dad!” she called, already halfway through the front door.
Happy that Zoe was happy, Leo turned the TV on and closed his eyes for a relaxing nap.
“Chico?” Zoe asked. “Can I ask you about your parents?”
“Adopted parents,” Chico corrected. “I’m still hopeful that my real parents will find me some day. But yeah, go ahead.”
“What are they like?”
“Just two nice adults that I live with,” he said evenly. “They take great care of me, but they’re just Demetrio and Irene. I’m not sure if I’ll ever call them ‘mom and dad.’”
“So it sounds like a sore subject.”
“Yeah,” Chico said, looking down. “I really like Miquel though. He calls me ‘little brother’ and I call him ‘big brother.’ It felt weird at first, but now I like it. If I had to pick a brother, it’d be him.”
“Miquel has always been nice to me,” Zoe said. “So should we stop by your house? Tell the Cruzs where you’re going?”
“Nah,” he said, shaking his head. “I can do what I want as long as I’m home for dinner at eight. I’ll have enough time to walk you to your grandfather’s.”
Zoe nodded, glad that she would have company.
They were walking and talking when they saw Manx in her yard with two Siamese kittens. They all waved.
“So she trains cats?” Chico asked.
“Cat familiars,” Zoe corrected. “She’s good with all familiars, but everyone goes to her about cats.”
“I’ve been thinking about it for a year, and I still can’t decide on what type of familiar I want.”
“Me neither,” Zoe said slightly sadly.
“Another thing in common,” Chico said with a laugh. “Except I only have a week to decide.”
“Well, what kind of animals do you like?”
“All of them, honestly, but I’m fascinated by frogs and toads.”
“Really?” Zoe asked. “Aren’t they slimey?”
“No,” Chico said with another laugh. “They’re amphibious, so they’re wet sometimes, but never slimey.”
“What kind of powers can they have?”
“Believe it or not, they’re thinking beasts, so telekinesis, telepathy, things like that.
“I bet that that would come in handy,” Zoe said. “And I bet they’re easy to feed.”
“They’re easy to feed and take care of, plus they’re small enough to carry around wherever you go.”
“So, how about that?” Zoe asked.
Chico pondered a moment before answering.
“You know, I think you just helped me figure it out,” he said, then held up a fist.
Zoe bumped it and they both laughed.
They spent the rest of the walk in companionable silence, making their way north on Lazy Axe Twist. They passed Nova Avenue with its five houses, then the next street with houses in various states of construction. A few dwarves, the best carpenters in the land, were working on them.
They crossed and turned right on Main Street. The library was to their left, and they reached the park that surrounded it on three sides a minute later.
“Start with the slide?” Chico asked.
“Sure!” Zoe answered.
He took off at a run and Zoe worked to keep up. After a few trips up then back down the slide, Zoe stopped Chico.
“I wanted to ask you something,” she said.
“I’d like to know if you would be my partner at school in the three classes we have together,”said Zoe.
“Sure,” Chico said. “I noticed that we both tend to work alone so we’ll be together now.”
“Cool,” Zoe said. “Want to try the…”
She cut herself off mid sentence when she saw Circe and Ceridwen spinning on the merry-go-round, just what she was about to suggest. Ceridwen’s hawk, Shae, stood clamped to one of the bars. Naznin, Circe’s cat, watched from the ground, his head wobbling back and forth as he watched them spin.
This is going to be bad, she thought.
“Can we go somewhere else?” she whispered to Chico, motioning at the twins.
“Why?” he asked, then saw what Zoe was worried about. “Don’t worry about them. They’ll leave us alone if we ignore them.”
“I’ll try,” she said.
Unfortunately, it was right then that the twins noticed them. They approached, both a little wobbly from the merry-go-round, but still very intimidating. Naznin and Shae followed closely behind.
“Who’s this, Wicked Weirdo and No Name?” Circe asked, then switched to a mocking tone. “Did you find a boyfriend? Are you in love?”
Chico put a reassuring hand on Zoe’s shoulder.
“Yeah, look at the lovebirds!” Ceridwen said. “I bet they’re going to the lake and kissing aaaaall night.”
“Kissy kiss,” Naznin hissed.
“He’s my friend!” Zoe yelled. Hot tears began to blur her vision. And it was true, she didn’t think of him in any romantic way.
Chico marched up and got in Circe’s face.
“You leave her alone!” he said.
“What are you going to do about it, No Name?” Ceridwen taunted.
Chico took a beat to think about the situation. He didn’t want it devolving into violence of any kind.
“Look. First, my name is Chico, not No Name,” he said with forced calm. His fists were balled at his sides. “Second, we just want to use the slide. Why don’t you stay over there, and we’ll stay over here?”
The twins looked at each other, then burst out in laughter. Naznin joined in and Shae shook her small bird head.
“How about I turn you into a snake?” Circe asked cruelly. “Let you slide around like that?”
Chico saw Shae look at Circe with concern. It was obvious the bird didn’t like it when his master was mean.
“Do it! Do it!” Ceridwen cried. “Let’s see how Zoe likes her boyfriend as a slime ball!”
Circe’s pointed her wand at Chico. He puffed up his chest a little and stood his ground, intent on being brave and avoiding any begging or pleading.
“Wait!” Shae said. All eyes went to him. He cleared his through, clawed nervously at the ground, and addressed the twins. “Today is Samhain, a sacred day. You two should be embracing it, not disrupting it.”
Circe scowled, but Ceridwen put a staying hand on her arm.
“Wait, sis,” she said quietly to Circe. “Shae is right. Let’s give them a pass today.”
“Why?” Circe demanded, holding her wand skyward. “This boy deserves to be a snake for talking to me like that.”
Ceridwen whispered into her hear. Circe visibly calmed as Ceridwen explained just how much trouble they might get in by starting something on Samhain.
“You’re lucky,” Circe said to Chico and Zoe. “But we’ve got school after the holiday then it’s a brand new day.”
The twins and their familiars returned to the merry-go-round and chatted quietly.
“Let’s see how they act when you’ve got a wand,” Zoe said.
“I’m not threatening anyone,” Chico replied. “But I’ll defend myself if I have to.”
“Exactly. And you don’t think you’ll ever have to defend yourself from them?”
“Let’s just let it slide, okay?” he said with a shrug.
Zoe nodded and followed him up the ladder.
Not too far away, she caught the eye of a blueish ghost. Gregory Grimm was coming.
Ghost Grimm hadn’t seen a single ghost on his way to town. He wasn’t confident enough in his disguise yet to fool an adult, but a child would be perfect.
Children are so trusting and stupid, he thought.
He had always hated children. Even his own daughter, until she had turned five and was able to perform magic. When her mother, one of his many girlfriends, told Gregory of her abilities, he had taken the child and had had her mother banished. He may not like children, but he needed a way to pass on his legacy.
The fact that he had had a daughter was no disappointment. Women were generally more magically adept than men, and tended to hold higher positions of power. Gregory’s expectations for her were grand, and had even developed into something like love over time.
A boy sat on the sidewalk ahead of him, trying to manipulate a small rock with his wand. The young, brown haired warlock didn’t seem to be having any effect on the rock.
“Good day to you,” Gregory said with a tight lipped smile. He had to be careful to avoid bearing his teeth.
“Hi,” the boy replied, not looking up. “You here for the holiday?”
“I am. Are you familiar with the Gri..Vales?” he asked.
“Like Phyllis Vale, the town founder?” the boy asked, then looked up at Grimm with confusion.
“Yes, tell me about her,” Gregory said, suddenly very interested.
The child explained the story of Phyllis’ betrayal of her father and her founding of Moonlight Valley. Gregory nodded here and there, impressed with his daughter’s initiative. She may have been a traitor, but she had gone on to make history. Gregory was sure that he could get Phyllis on his side again after bringing her back. They would be unstoppable.
“So are you related?” the boy asked.
“I’m her…” Gregory started, then considered.
If she went on to make history, I’m probably in the books too, he thought.
“Uncle,” he finished. “Distant. I never actually knew her.”
“That’s sad,” the boy said. “Nobody knows what she looked like, and there are no pictures. I would have liked to know.”
“Me too,” Gregory said shortly, eager to move the conversation along. “So where could a ghost like me make friends with the other town ghosts?”
“The Town Center,” the boy replied, looking at him with confusion again. “Everyone knows that they are there for the holidays. Except Gwen and Mr. Palehill. Gwen chases animals around all day, and Mr. Palehill, is a teacher, at The Academy.”
“The school on the lake to the east?”
The child nodded.
“Good. I’ll have to pay them a visit,” Gregory said with a smile.
The boy flinched. Gregory’s smile instantly disappeared and he moved along.
Gregory Grimm schemed and pondered. More active ghosts were always more powerful, so he made a mental note of Palehill. Surely a ghost that was corporeal and aware enough to teach would be powerful indeed.
He was crossing the park when he stopped suddenly and his jaw dropped open. Phyllis was right there, playing on the slide.
Gregory floated closer as quickly as he could, then realized his mistake. The shiny black hair, same length as Phyllis, simple clothing style, wide, easy smile. She even climbed, laughed, and played like Phyllis, but it wasn’t her.
He couldn’t believe his luck. A living, blood relative of Phyllis’ would be required to bring her back, and this girl figuratively, then literally, stumbled into him (almost through him).
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Zoe said. “I didn’t see you there.”
“Quite alright. I don’t exactly make a whole lot of noise.”
He heard the words coming out of his mouth, but he was completely focused on Zoe. She also sounded like Phyllis. Surely they had to be related.
“I’m Zoe Bloom,” she said. “Who are you here to see?”
The question hadn’t been unexpected, but it caught Gregory off guard. The only resident he knew was The Necromancer, and he wasn’t about to drop that name. Zoe would know everyone.
“Actually, I’m lost,” he said, trying to dodge the question.
“Hello, sir,” Chico said, nearly startling Gregory. He hadn’t even seen the boy.
“Good day, young warlock,” Gregory said to Chico, then turned his attention back to Zoe. “Ms. Bloom, would you mind telling me a little about your family history?”
It was an odd question, but Zoe enjoyed telling people about her family.
“My mom and grandpa are Winter, and my dad has always been a Bloom.”
“I know of the Winters,” Gregory said. “Can you tell me more about them?”
“Not really,” Zoe said sadly. “I don’t know much about our family history.”
Ghost Grimm hid his disappointment. Before doing anything, he’d have to confirm with The Necromancer that she was related.
“Thank you, dear witch,” he said. “One last question. I’m on my way to Town Center. How many other ghosts should I expect to find there?”
“There are usually four,” Chico said. “But there are more on the holidays.”
“Excellent,” Gregory said. “Thank you both.”
The three said goodbye to one another and Gregory walked off.
“There’s something wrong with that ghost,” Chico said.
“Like what?” Zoe asked. “He looked older than the others, I guess, but not bad.”
“I don’t know, I just feel it. Plus, he said he was lost, but never asked for directions.”
“You know, my vision was about something bad happening in Moonlight Valley,” Zoe said. “I thought it was the bogey, but what if it’s him?”
“Let’s keep it between us,” Chico suggested. “We’ll keep an eye on him.”
Palehill laughed quietly at the book he was reading, “Ghost Hunters.” The Outsider paranormal investigators were trying to figure out why a dog’s toys kept showing up outside of a locked closet. It was obvious to Palehill that the dog had some kind of telekinetic abilities, yet the investigators continued blaming ghosts. He would enjoy telling Principal Vasaam about it.
Silly Outsiders, Palehill thought as he heard noise from down the hall. Ah, Vasaam is here for dinner.
Palehill had been a medium before meeting his demise at the age of sixty four in an earthquake in Peru. One of his most used items was a wooden Ouija board made in 1692. It had been sent with his body back to Moonlight Valley, then donated to The Paragon Academy of Magic.
Years later, he simply showed up ready to teach. Unlike many other ghosts, he didn’t have unfinished business, or any real reason to be there at all. Sometimes ghosts just came back for no reason. When Ms. Stephens retired from Ways of the Summoning, he was the most qualified replacement, and he had been there ever since.
Samhain and Beltane was his favorite holidays that he looked forward to it all year. The days of being able to taste brought him great joy. He was a happy ghost, and loved children, but it was nice having a connection to his old life, even if it was for such a short time.
Palehill’s plan for that evening with Vasaam was a glass of wine or two with dinner, cognac in front of the fireplace, and a nice game of chess. Vasaam, a sylph, was mostly his equal when it came to chess, but they both had their good days and bad days.
The sound of someone coming came closer, and Palehill tidied up his desk. He took note of the Ouija board in the bottom left drawer of his desk. No one fully understood the rules that governed ghosts, even him. Some were bound to places, some to items, some could roam while others couldn’t. There were residual ghosts that didn’t seem to be aware of or interact with anything, and the more solid ghosts like Palehill. He was happy with his situation, all things considered. Unfortunately, he couldn’t move the Ouija board.
Vasaam had finally convinced Palehill to accept living quarters in the basement. It wasn’t ready yet but he looked forward to it.
He shook himself out of a daydream again, one mostly of the food he’d be enjoying. How he wished that someone could grant him the sense of taste all year round.
The movement was nearing the door, so he floated over and opened it. The hall was dark, but he could make out a shape. It wasn’t Vasaam, or Goldenricker, the janitor. Both would have been carrying a light source, and the shape was too tall.
“Hello?” Palehill called out. The shape said nothing and continued walking smoothly toward him. “Can I help you?”
The shape reached him.
“Hello, ghost teacher,” it said.
Palehill squinted forward into the dimness, trying to make out a face. The eyes danced in front of his, milky and transparent. He realized that the shape was a fellow ghost, but still took an involuntary step back. There was a familiarity there, but mostly intensity, like a cold, blue flame was burning behind them.
The ghost smiled at Palehill and stepped into the doorway. The nasty smile caused a tendril of fear to grip Palehill’s heart. He took another step back and bumped against his desk. As the stranger loomed over him, Palehill locked in on a memory of a trip to Greenland.
On a cold, rainy night, back when Palehill was still alive, he had been seeking shelter. Shivering and hungry, he came across the town of Faraway How. It had an inn, which looked comfortable enough. Warm cider and a belly full of food later, he realized that some of the patrons looked out of place and distrusting. They each wore strange symbols on their robes. Two were sparring in one corner, relentlessly hurling spell after spell at one another.
Palehill couldn’t risk getting stuck outside in a storm, so he decided to ignore the whole thing and go to his room.
Suddenly, he remembered where he had seen the ghost’s face. The man’s face was on a painting, in a room he had stayed in to escape a passing storm in Greenland. He had the same crooked grin and cold blue eyes.
Once he had found out who the man in the painting was, Palehill rushed out, attracting more than a little attention from many of the shifty looking customers. Gregory Grimm had been the lord of the land at that time, and the most powerful black magic warlock in the world.
Suddenly, Palehill reached behind him for his parchment, intent on warning High Officer Verdelet of Gregory’s sudden appearance. But with lightning speed, Gregory gripped Palehill’s shoulder and looked into his eyes.
“You will listen to me, Palehill!” Gregory said sternly.
The ghost teacher opened his mouth to call for help. He expected Vasaam any time. But for some reason, he couldn’t yell. Gregory was saying something, and he had no choice but to listen.
A calmness began to take him.
Yes, of course I will listen, Palehill thought. This man is my friend, and means me no harm. I might even be able to taste the wine all year.
“Just let go,” he heard Gregory whisper.
And he did.
Gregory’s formerly blue eyes now burned white hot. He hadn’t felt that kind of power in a long time. He gripped the wand he had been buried with and pointed it at the book Palehill had been reading.
“Ignis!” he yelled.
The book burst into flames. He watched it burn for for a minute.
The flames disappeared immediately.
Excellent, he thought.
Gregory still wasn’t at full power, but taking the power from other ghosts was becoming easier and easier. The population of ghosts in Moonlight Valley was slowly being depleted with no one yet aware.
Zoe had invited Chico over for dinner, but Miquel was going to be home and wanted to see him. He had promised to come by after spending some time with his family. They were planning on heading to the cemetery to look for the mystery ghost she had met the night before.
For the moment, she was sitting at the table with Aldo, Leo, and Marigold. The fairy had cooked up a wonderful holiday meal replete with cheesy sour cream rolls, roast beef, garlic potatoes, and candied yams. Aldo, not being a meat eater, had heaped a large serving of spinach casserole onto his plate.
Once everyone was settled, Aldo spoke to the group:
“Let us honor the lost, and look forward to what is to be gained with a new year.”
Leo and Zoe nodded at each other, then yelled “Happy New Year!” in unison.
Everyone laughed. It was a yearly tradition that they repeated on the Outsider new year two months later.
Zoe crammed food into her mouth, eager to get to the blue Jell-o and whipped cream. The dessert kept catching her eye, but the dinner was so good she couldn’t quite focus on anything else.
Zoe was half way through the squiggly deliciousness when the other three finished up. Marigold cleared the table and brought Leo a cup of black coffee. She refilled her wine and sat back down, a happy smile on her face.
“How are things with Chico?” Leo asked Zoe. He was still worried about her. Aldo had been watching, but he still wasn’t sure which way her power would go.
“He called me his best friend,” she said with a smile. “I’ve never had one of those before.”
“What about the Kenning kids?”
“We played, but I never had much in common with them.”
Leo listened while his daughter told them about the video games that they had been playing. He was happy seeing her have fun with another child her age.
“You do know that those zombies are against the law, right?” Marigold asked Zoe.
“It’s just a game,” Zoe said with a laugh. “Besides, I think magic would beat a zombie apocalypse, so I’m not worried.”
“Oh, I’m not so sure,” Aldo said with a crafty grin. “Our magic can’t stop viruses.”
“Couldn’t we, I don’t know, make a big bubble, like the one around the town?” Zoe asked. It was becoming a game.
“And breathe what?” Aldo asked with mock drama.
Zoe was silent for a moment.
“A ha! The zombies win!” Aldo said, but then caught Leo giving him a gentle look of warning. Zoe loved her zombie fiction, but had genuine fears of it becoming reality. He quickly adjusted the conversation. “I’m only kidding, dear. You know I’d come up with a cure. I always do!”
“What about voodoo zombies?” Zoe asked.
“They are real but not like what you watch. They are mindless slaves most of the time,” Leo said.
Zoe accepted Leo’s answer, but Aldo knew better.
After a second helping of dessert, Zoe texted Chico with her parchment:
“I’m almost done here,” it read. “You ready to meet up?”
She sipped at her tea and waited for the chirp of the incoming reply.
“I’m on my way to your grandpa’s house and I can stay out until midnight. What about you?”
“Dad, Chico is on his way over,” she said, then put on her best cute look. “Can I stay out until midnight, since it’s a holiday?”
“Is your phone charged?” Leo asked.
“Yep, all the way!” she said, already getting excited. Zoe also noticed that he didn’t ask anything about Chico.
My dad trusts Chico! she thought happily.
“Okay, but text me at eleven,” he said with the kind of loving sternness that only parents seem to express. Leo was still shaken up over the events of the day, but he knew that she needed to be a kid sometimes. Being a father had its own difficulties, but having a magic daughter, and one as unique as Zoe, was a whole different trial. But he had long ago vowed to be more open to Zoe’s needs and accept that she was growing up.
Zoe put her dessert bowl in the sink, put on a jacket, and bid goodbye to Leo, Aldo, and Marigold. Excitement over their next Reject adventure coursed through her. She needed to get the female ghost’s attention.
Vasaam paced worriedly. He had been waiting for High Officer Verdelet for an hour.
Curse my tardiness! he thought. He might have stopped whatever had happened to Palehill if he hadn’t been late. Mannaz, another teacher, had been insistent that he deliver her new granite runes to her home rather than wait for when school began again.
Vasaam was very supportive of her, but she could try his patience at times. But, he had politely delivered the runes and accepted an orange spice cookie.
And look where it got me. Late and missing a teacher.
When Vasaam had first entered the room, Palehill was nowhere to be seen. It took considerable energy for ghosts to manifest, and they sometimes needed to rest. He wasn’t worried at first, although it was unusual.
After calling for him a few times, Vasaam grew impatient. It wasn’t an unusual state for him, but the children never saw it. He saw the burnt book, then investigated the desk.
The Ouija board was still in its place.
A knot of worry tightened in his belly. Ghosts could cross over into the Afterworld, but it didn’t usually happen for a bit. Still it was a possibility.
It was then that he had decided to text Verdelet.
Without a sound, Verdelet appeared in the room.
“Good holiday, Vasaam,” he said.
Officer Phan, himself a ghost, came silently through the open door.
“Good holiday, Vasaam,” Phan said. Verdelet gave him half a scowl for the interrupting repeated greeting.
“Uh, good holiday, gentlemen,” Vasaam said. It seemed that he had been thrown off by the dual greeting as well.
Vasaam explained to the officers what had happened, and showed them the Ouija board and burnt book.
“Could he have burned the book?” Phan asked.
“No, definitely not! Palehill cherished his books.”
“I’m asking if he has the power to light things on fire.”
“He can light candles,” Vasaam said.
Phan nodded and continued inspecting around the desk. More footsteps approached, and four more officers entered the room, all elves. All four resembled one another.
“Spread out and look for signs of foul play,” Verdelet instructed them. They all nodded to Vasaam then got to work. Seeing all the activity gave some comfort to Vasaam.
“Has Mr. Palehill ever ignored your call?” Verdelet asked.
“No, not ever.”
One of the elves asked: “Have you tried contacting him my any other means?”
“No, not yet,” Vasaam answered. “I contacted Ver-, High Officer Verdelet right away, then waited. As instructed.”
High Officer Verdelet was by the book, and Vasaam had corrected himself to a more professional form of address.
“This could take a bit, Vasaam,” Verdelet said. “You can go home if you’d like. I’ll text you updates.”
Under normal circumstances, he idea of heading home would sound heavenly to Vasaam. But with Palehill missing, there would be no joy.
“I’d prefer to stay,” he said.
Verdelet nodded, then began poking around in the desk. The Ouija board was indeed there. Verdelet had never heard of a ghost successfully breaking their object binding, though not for lack of trying.
An hour had passed, and Vasaam was still pacing.
“Sir,” one of the elves said. Vasaam had become sure they were all related. “We found no indication of a struggle or foul play.”
“Meatball scryed for Mr. Palehill, and he’s not in Moonlight Valley.”
“Alright. Listen,” Verdelet said, addressing the elf. “Go to the office and check the security feeds. If there’s nothing there, scramble a marsh team and send them out.”
“Yes, sir,” the elf said, then quickly walked out of the room.
“What happens now?” Vasaam asked Verdelet.
“I’ll have a team search the marsh for four hours.”
“They can handle four hours before getting drained too much by the marsh.”
“Okay,” Vasaam said, a touch of impatience in his voice. “Then what?”
Verdelet put his hands on his hips and looked at the ground, like maybe it would give a better answer than he was about to. Palehill was a friend, and adored by the school. If he had really crossed over, there would be a lot of sad faces around here.
“If he isn’t found by then, at forty eight hours from now we’ll alert add more officers will do a sweep search. From one end of the barrier to the other, if we have to.”
Vasaam nodded and resumed his pacing, but stopped when Verdelet asked his next question.
“Vasaam, I hate to ask this, but is there a chance that Mr. Palehill crossed to the Void?”
“Absolutely not!” Vasaam yelled, then calmed himself. “No. Mr. Palehill was a good man, a good ghost.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to ask,” Verdelet said, and he meant it. He turned to the Phan and the remaining three elves. “Okay, team. Head back to the office, we’ll set up our command post there.”
The four shuffled out, all focus and professional urgency.
“What do I do?” Vasaam asked.
“Go home. Eat. Rest. We’ll have something for you in the morning, if not sooner.”
“I’m not feeling very reassured here, Verdelet,” Vasaam said quietly.
Verdelet looked into Vasaam’s eyes.
“The security force will take care of it. I promise. Will that do?”
“Thank you, my friend.”
Verdelet nodded, then blinked.
Vasaam looked around the room one last time, then headed home for a lonely dinner and lots of coffee. The mystery would remain ongoing.
Ghost Grimm had found his way back to his grave marker. Disgust and anger raged in him at the lack of recognition in the tiny plot. He had been the greatest black magic warlock of his time and felt that he deserved much more than dirt and stone. But before that, he needed Phyllis. Then he would be able to defeat the werewolf apprentice and possibly take back his city.
Quietly, but loud enough to be heard, The Necromancer approached Gregory from behind, then stopped. Gregory faced him.
“You look…” The Necromancer paused, a small smile on his hooded face, searching for the most flattering phrase he could muster. “In peak condition.”
“Pickings are slim,” Gregory said defensively. “I got a teacher though. Excellent essence.”
“Mr. Palehill?” the black magic warlock asked.
“Yes,” Gregory said with his crooked grin. “He put up a fight, but I got him.”
“That may pose a problem,” The Necromancer growled.
“Why? He’s just another ghost.”
“A high profile ghost. He’ll be missed, if he isn’t already.”
The Necromancer thought for a few moments.
“We have to act quickly,” he said. “The school won’t be open until Thursday, so we should have enough time.”
“Of course we’ll have enough time,” Gregory said with a scoff. He was growing frustrated with The Necromancer’s lack of courage. Gregory fully intended to double cross The Necromancer at the first opportunity, but they needed each other for the time being, and they were bound by the Abiding Verbal Agreement.
“Do you know Zoe Bloom?” Gregory asked.
“Yes. Very well,” The Necromancer said. Had Gregory been able to see his face, he would have seen a look of curiosity. “I’ve been watching her for some time. Her mother was a great Magistra. I’m hoping she’ll come into the same power, so I can take it from her.”
The Necromancer enjoyed having someone to share his dark thoughts with. Years of silence had begun to take their toll.
“She looks just like my daughter,” Gregory explained. “Do you know if she has Grimm in her blood line?”
“No, I don’t,” The Necromancer said, growing more curious. “The genealogy records only go back one hundred and fifty years.”
“I need to know. I need ancestral blood to raise my daughter.”
Ah, there it is, The Necromancer thought. His stomach turned at the thought of blood. If at all possible, he avoided anything having to do with the nauseating substance.
“Blood?” he asked. “You never said anything about blood.”
Gregory had no idea how this fool had come so far. Clearly he was dense, and not at all built for great power. Black magic sometimes involved blood, and how was this man going to expect to learn the Meordusax curse being so squeamish. He ignored the question.
“You need a hair,” Gregory said. “A single one, from her head, should do. That will allow you to trace her line back to the beginning.”
“I’ve never used a spell like that. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“You have to. I’m not powerful enough yet.”
Both clearly didn’t like showing weakness to the other. Gregory explained the spell and how to do it. The Necromancer seemed to understand, but Gregory fumed quietly at his overall lack of natural ability.
“Do you require anything of me?” Gregory asked flatly.
“No, that will be all for now. I’ll find Zoe, then meet you here at two A.M.”
Gregory nodded and began to leave, but The Necromancer said something else.
“There’s another lively ghost around, if you don’t mind chasing her down.”
“Where do I start?”
“In town, likely chasing animals around.” said the Necromancer,”I must go to eat.”
Gregory floated off, glad to be rid of The Necromancer.
Yes, I must eat too, thought Gregory, All the ghosts in town.
Chico held the gate open for Zoe as they entered Misty Pine Cemetery. A few Samhain stragglers remained, speaking quietly with departed loved ones. Zoe looked around urgently for the mystery ghost and wondered again if her vision’s predictions still had yet to reveal themselves.
“Do you feel anything…foreboding?” she asked Chico.
“No,” he said. “Do you?”
“Maybe. There’s something off here. Whatever happens, we have to stop it.”
Chico nodded, then asked: “Have you had another vision?”
“No. I just feel something is wrong here.”
“Irene has had a few visions and they have helped so maybe you just need to grow into them,” Chico said comfortingly.
“Yeah,” Zoe said absently, scanning the cemetery. “Let’s look around.”
“Are we looking for something other than your mystery ghost?”
“I don’t know. Just look for anything out of the ordinary.”
She wished that she could be more specific, but all she knew was that something wasn’t right. Then it hit her.
“Where are Mr. and Mrs. Hayes? They’re bound to this crypt.”
“Maybe they’re vising other ghosts?” Chico suggested.
“No, they don’t mingle. They talk to their great granddaughter when she visits but she’s not here for the holiday.”
Zoe called out to them. After a minute of waiting with no answer, a thought occurred to Chico.
“I haven’t seen Tiffany either, now that I think about it.”
“She tends to be on the south side of the cemetery. Let’s go check on her.”
As they walked west they saw Healer David roaming about, and Mrs. Anglegum, a sprite, visiting her mother. But no sign of Tiffany. They did a quick circle of the cemetery then stopped.
“That’s six ghosts missing that should be here,” Zoe said.
“Could they all be resting?” Chico asked, already knowing the answer.
“At the same time? No way, especially on Samhain.”
Zoe looked to Mrs. Anglegum, the closest adult, and approached her.
Mrs. Anglegum stood at two feet tall and had iridescent wings of the same length. She owned the Cheeky Witch. The town clothing store that Zoe used to shop at all the time.
“Mrs. Anglegum?” Zoe asked politely. Under normal circumstances, she would have waited patiently before interrupting the sprite, but Zoe was becoming increasingly worried. “Have you seen any of the resident ghosts?”
“No, sorry,” she answered.
“What time did you get here?” Zoe asked.
“About an hour ago. But Mr. Goldenricker has been here since sunset. Are you okay, Zoe? I haven’t seen you at the store in a while.”
“I’m good, thank you,” Zoe said absently. She didn’t want to cause any alarm until she was sure that there was a problem.
“Thank you, Mrs. Anglegum,” she said, then walked off with Chico in search of Goldenricker.
Near the south side, two green shapes laughed and poured each other mead from a jug. The more solid shape was Goldenricker. The translucent green shape was his father, Golden. The younger was explaining to the older about a lost pot of gold, quite the dilemma for the leprechaun. But, since they were both happy drinkers, and had been happily drinking since sunset, they were enjoying each others company more than worrying about lost gold.
“I wish I could get out and help you, son,” his father said.
“It’s alright. Knowing me, I’ll trip over it somewhere, just like the mop bucket at the Academy.”
They both laughed again at the younger Goldenricker’s seemingly growing clumsiness. As the laughter began dying down, Zoe interrupted.
“Good Samhain to you,” she said.
“I’ll drink to that!” they both said simultaneously, then looked at each other and burst out laughing again.
Unfortunately, their laughter and jovial mood evaporated quickly as Zoe asked about the missing ghosts. Goldenricker was especially thoughtful when he explained to Zoe that he hadn’t seen any ghosts but his father since arriving at sunset.
“Has this ever happened before?” Zoe asked the leprechauns.
They both shook their head.
“Should I text High Officer Verdelet?” she asked them.
“I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation, dear,” the older leprechaun said.
“Yeah, probably. Thank you.”
They two pairs bade each other a good night, and resumed their previous activities.
Zoe still felt a wrong-ness about the place.
“What now?” Chico asked her.
The gate squeaked as someone entered the cemetery.
The Necromancer saw the budding witch daily, and she him. He returned Zoe’s wave. He had discovered Zoe was in Misty Pines so he brought Goldenricker and his father some holiday ale as an excuse. The Cruz brat was there, the Outsider turned magical. The Necromancer was convinced that there was something else at play when it came to his adoptive mother, Irene. She had had a vision about Chico, and he conveniently showed up.
Luckily, he wouldn’t be a threat until it was discovered what his powers were the next week.
The Necromancer spoke politely with Zoe, and kept a poker face when she asked about the missing ghosts. He knew that is cover was still intact, but the boy just kept staring at him.
When his impatience and paranoia became nearly overwhelming, he reached out and plucked two hairs from Zoe’s head.
“Ow!” she cried.
“Sorry, Zoe,” The Necromancer said. “There was a spider in your hair.”
“Did you get it?” she asked with wide eyes. While Zoe and Chico reflexively scanned the ground for more spiders, The Necromancer pocketed the hairs.
“Yes,” he said, glad that her misplaced trust was still with him.
As eager as he was to leave and begin the ritual, he still had to play the part. He assured her that the ghosts would turn up soon, then left the cemetery.
The thought of blood entered his mind again. He knew that he’d need to overcome the queasiness if he wanted to become powerful enough to learn the killing curse.
The Necromancer steeled himself, ready to go as dark as he needed to, with the help of Gregory Grimm, to achieve his goals.
Blood or no blood.
Gwen Palant chased a rabbit behind the stores of Main Street. She had heard it cough, and concluded that it obviously carried some kind of pathogen that would start an outbreak in Moonlight Valley.
Gwen is all white but still wears the Animal Control uniform she died in. She breathed rapidly, not knowing that she didn’t need to, and thought that she heard her hiking boots pounding on the concrete, but she was floating along silently.
The rabbit’s heart pounded. It had never seen, or been chased, by a ghost before. It saw the large net raise in the air, then was scooped up by another ghost that it hadn’t seen. It had come out of the narrow alley next to the diner.
“Don’t touch it!” Gwen yelled. “It’s diseased!”
“This harmless thing?” Gregory asked. He stroked the rabbit’s fur, but it still scrabbled in fear.
Gwen eyed the man suspiciously. Her mind didn’t always work like it used to, but she knew a suspicious character when she saw one.
“Put the rabbit in the net, sir,” she said with authority. Whoever this ghost was, he wasn’t going to stop her from doing her job.
“I will,” he said. “But first, look into my eyes.”
The request caught her off guard, and her brown eyes locked onto his cold, steel blue ones.
Ghost Grimm burped, then giggled coldly. Burping was a small price to pay for the surge of power he felt. Every ghost in the Town Center had been consumed.
It was time to meet with The Necromancer and free Phyllis, finish the agreement.
Then the werewolf turned apprentice, Rommick.
He will pay.
Zoe and Chico walked slowly along the path back to her house. The cemetery was a bust, so, disappointed, they had called it a night. Because they had found nothing, they hadn’t bothered texting High Officer Verdelet.
Chico took the opportunity to ask Zoe for help. It required a bump of courage. He didn’t like asking for help, but he trusted Zoe completely. The alone feeling was starting to fade.
“Speaking of ghosts,” he said conversationally, “I have one in my house.”
“Really?” Zoe asked. She was grateful for the distraction.
“Yeah, in my room. Things are always moving by themselves. At first, Irene and Demetrio convinced me that my powers weren’t being controlled, but it happened again a few nights ago. I believed them when I was young, but not now.”
“There was whispering in my ear, and when I woke up, my room was freezing.”
“Like a cold spot from a ghost?”
“Yeah, exactly!” Chico said, nodding with excitement. “So since Irene and Demetrio probably wouldn’t believe me, I’m going to talk to Mr. Palehill when school starts.”
“It sounds like a haunting,” Zoe said, her brow creased in thought. “Have you seen it?”
“No. That’s what I was hoping you’d help me with. I want to coax the ghost into showing itself, then ask who it is and why they’re there.”
“Sure, I’ll help,” Zoe said with a smile.
They changed direction, heading for Chico’s house.
“The Cruzs go to bed early,” Chico whispered. “So keep quiet.”
They were on the porch, about to enter through the front door. Pale light spilled out from the foyer, but no other lights were on.
“Will they get mad if I’m here?” Zoe asked.
“Probably not, but I’ve never had anyone over. I’d like to just avoid the whole thing for now.”
He quietly opened the door, then they tiptoed to the attic.
Zoe marveled at the floor space, and contemplated asking to move into the attic in her house. There was only clutter in there at the moment, unlike Chico’s tidy and organize space.
“I like your room. It’s neat and neat,” she whispered.
“Thank you, but look at the desk,” he said, and pointed at it. There were half assembled model cars, corresponding parts, paints, and brushes scattered on the surface. “I always, always, put my model parts away.”
“Yeah, weird,” Zoe said. Zoe’s trust in him ran as deep as his trust for her. “Did you bring your spirit board home?”
He nodded, then retrieved the board and planchette from under his bed. While he did that, Zoe took a candle from his window sill, placed it on the floor, and lit it magically with her hand. Chico laid the board out between them and they sat cross legged. They both placed an index and middle finger on the planchette.
“Is there a spirit here?” Zoe asked somberly. “I call to you. You must come.”
Nothing happened, so she focused harder and repeated the call.
A cold breeze brushed her hair and the planchette moved to “Yes.”
“I tried this for hours without getting a response,” Chico said with surprise.
“Mr. Palehill’s class is my favorite. I’m pretty good at focusing on the right energy,” Zoe said. “Is there anything specific you’d like to ask?”
“Just do your thing,” Chico said with wide eyes, staring at the board.
“Are you a boy, or a girl?” she asked the room.
“How old are you?”
Zoe looked at Chico, who gave her a “go on” hand motion. She continued.
“Are you trapped here?”
After a few more questions, they put the story together. His name was Albert Green, and he had been living as a ghost in their house for the last fifty years. It was only recently that he had gained enough energy to make contact.
“You have a funny way of making contact, messing with my stuff like that,” Chico said.
“I’m sorry,” a voice said. It was low, like it had been carried in on the wind.
A shape began to appear, a sort of shimmer at first that partially solidified into a translucent boy. He sat with them, cross legged as well. Short, blonde hair topped his head. He looked to be about Zoe’s height, four foot five, and had pale skin, mostly hidden under a modern gray, two button suit.
Chico was startled into silence at the sudden appearance, but Zoe didn’t miss a beat.
“Hello, Albert,” she said with a smile. “I’m Zoe Bloom, and this is my friend, Chico Cruz.”
“‘Chico’ means ‘boy’ in Spanish,” Albert said with a nervous smile of his own.
“Yeah,” Chico said with wide, staring eyes. “That’s what my parents called me when they gave me up.”
“Can I ask what happened to you?” Chico asked.
“Sure,” Albert said. “It’s the least I can do to make up for touching your things.”
Albert closed his eyes and did his best to poke around the foggy memories.
“I don’t remember much from before,” he said sadly. “I had parents, and I can kind of remember them. Other than that, I woke up here. I was trapped in the closet for years, then I figured out how to move around the room. The couple that lived here before you used to use your room for guests. I was lonely most of the time, so any time one stayed, I tried to communicate. The best I could do was make the room a little colder, which only resulted in them getting extra blankets.”
“That must have been awful,” Zoe said.
“It was until the Cruzs moved in. Mrs. Cruz sewed up here and would listen to music or hum. I was so happy to have someone around that I didn’t want to risk making contact again. Then you moved in, and I thought maybe we could be friends. So I’ve been trying for the last year, first being able to move stuff, and just tonight I was able to talk to you.”
“It’s the power of Samhain,” Zoe explained.
“Yeah,” Albert said. Then his eyes welled up and he burst into tears. “I’m happy, but I miss my parents so much.”
Chico slid over and put an arm around the young ghost. Albert was cold to touch but Chico didn’t mind.
“I know how you feel,” he said. “I was only a few months old when mine left me at the orphanage. I don’t even have any memories of them.”
“Maybe,” Albert started, then sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Maybe we can both find our parents?”
“And my mom,” Zoe said.
“Where is your mom?” Albert asked her.
“She went missing seven years ago without a clue.”
Suddenly, Zoe felt like crying as well. She swallowed the lump, not wanting to take focus away from their new friend.
“Let’s stick together, help each other out,” Chico suggested.
“Another member of the Rejects!” Zoe exclaimed. “We can do anything!”
Chico laughed and Albert looked at them both with happy confusion. He didn’t know what the Rejects were, but it felt like family. Zoe explained her and Chico’s social situation.
“I know what it feels like to be different,” Albert said. “It’s all hazy, but I know that I wasn’t very strong magically.”
“Neither am I,” Chico admitted.
“And I can’t control mine,” Zoe said. She left out the possibility of her being a black magic witch. Not just to keep Albert from worrying, but also to keep herself from going crazy. She did her best to not think about it until her birthday.
“Are you bound to anything? The house, an object?” she asked Albert, changing the subject.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Follow me,” Zoe said, then stood. Chico and Albert stood, then followed her quietly down the attic stairs to the front door. Zoe opened it and faced them from outside on the porch.
“Step through the door,” she whispered to Albert.
He seemed to forget that he was floating, and tiptoed out silently.
“So you can get out, but no further,” Zoe said “That means it’s an object.”
Albert thought for a moment. He opened his mouth, then closed it. His eyes closed as he concentrated on a memory.
“I used to hide my toy trains under a floorboard.”
They all nodded to one another and quietly made their way back to Chico’s attic.
Once back upstairs, Albert put his hands on his hips and floated around the room, looking for the floorboard and trying to jog loose another memory. He stopped in front of the bed.
“Here!” he whispered.
The trio poked their heads under the bed and Chico wiggled a loose board out. Inside was a metal toy train engine.
“That’s it!” Albert cried.
Chico held one hand out to quiet the ghost boy.
“Shhh. My parents are still asleep,” he whispered. “Stay quiet, and let’s see if you can get out.”
Once more, they made their way downstairs, Zoe and Chico padding softly down while Albert floated silently behind. Chico joined Zoe on the porch and they stared at Albert. He took a tentative step through the doorway, then another to the top step of the porch. A smile started at the corners of his mouth, then filled out as he slowly descended the steps, then walked a few steps onto the lawn.
Albert blurted out a short, victorious laugh.
“I’m free!” he whispered loudly.
As they held a mute celebration, Zoe recalled Albert mentioning something about feeling other ghosts nearby. Specifically Gwen.
“Albert, you said you could feel nearby ghosts,” she said. “Do you think you could help me find one?”
“Of course!” he answered without hesitation.
Half an hour later, she was back at Chico’s house. She had left a note for her father, who she left sleeping on the couch with the TV on. But not before covering him with a blanket.
Zoe didn’t want to seem like she was taking advantage of Albert and his new friendship, and it was way past her curfew, but she was beginning to worry that something was seriously wrong in Moonlight Valley.
The answer would eventually come but not right away.
The Necromancer paced back and forth in front of the grave marker. Gregory was ten minutes late. Impatience began to outweigh the worry over bearing bad news to the ghost.
Gregory stalked up to him from the forest and, not bothering with pleasantries, went straight to his question.
“Well? Is she related to me?” he demanded. Gregory had seen the hooded figure from afar, looking weak and unsure of himself.
“I failed,” The Necromancer said simply.
Gregory opened his mouth, but The Necromancer continued before he could speak.
“I did the ritual as you instructed. I saw the Winters, generations, dating back to Germany, but that’s where it stops.”
The ghost crossed his arms and fumed.
A simple black magic spell, and this fool couldn’t do it!
He spat, ejecting a wad of ectoplasm that landed with a wet splat into the mud of the marsh. Creating ectoplasm like that was no easy feat for ghosts, and The Necromancer took note of it.
“You have more power, I see,” he said.
“Yes,” Gregory said. The anger was replaced by the nasty grin. “Perhaps enough to end this little game.”
Without warning, Gregory rushed The Necromancer and knocked him to the ground. The ghost towered over him, but stopped when The Necromancer laughed.
“Do you honestly think I didn’t protect myself from possession?” he asked, then coughed. The vile mud was eye watering noxious up close.
Gregory backed off half a step, but still loomed over The Necromancer.
The warlock looked up at the ghost with a dark smile, still mostly covered by the hood.
“Possessing me would violate the terms of our Abiding Verbal Agreement, and you know what happens to ghosts that do that.”
“I don’t, actually,” Gregory growled. He had never paid much attention.
“Well,” The Necromancer said while he got to his feet. He tried brushing some of the mud away, but the stain was already set. It was going to take a lot of Marigold Mix to clean. “You don’t just go back to the Void. You get obliterated. Nothing. You’ll cease to exist.”
Gregory considered his options, then took a step back.
“Fine,” he said.
“Besides. If you’re that powerful, you can do the ritual yourself.”
“I need blood. The hair must not have been enough.”
“I can’t do blood,” The Necromancer said quietly. “Not yet.”
“I know what to do,”said Ghost Grimm.
They plotted together. It would be black magic at it’s best.
The late hour began taking its toll on Zoe and Chico. Their first stop had been the cemetery, where only Goldenricker remained. The leprechaun’s small camp fire was mostly embers. They had decided to let him sleep, knowing that the maintenance manager wouldn’t be needed until the school opened.
Their next stop had been the park. On the way, Zoe had noticed that there were no ghosts on Main Street or the Town Center. Most of their resident ghosts were gone from time to time, but Wilbur was always there watching over the town. When they couldn’t find him, deep worry set in for all of them.
“Do you feel any ghosts here?” Zoe asked.
“It’s the same as the cemetery, there’s nothing,” Albert answered.
“Let’s head back to my house,” she said. “Something is definitely wrong, and it’s time to tell my dad.”
Zoe knew that her father would be upset about her staying out so late, but she also knew when it was time to ask for help. They agreed and headed toward Zoe’s street, Lazy Axe Twist.
After heading down the street for a few minutes, they began to hear faint crying. They followed the sound to the Kenning’s house.
“In the back yard!” Zoe said, then took off at a run. The gate was open, as it always was, to allow Sweetpie, their dog familiar, to roam the town. She stopped around the back corner of the house out of sight of Chico and Albert, but they heard her gasp.
“It’s you!” Zoe said as the other two caught up.
The ghost turned, her silver robe flowing behind her like it was underwater.
“Don’t go, please,” Zoe pleaded. “We just want to talk to you. Are you alright?”
The ghost stopped and turned back around to face them. Her translucent eyes leaked tears, but she stopped crying.
“I remember you,” she said to Zoe. “We spoke last night. It’s nice to see a familiar face.”
“What are you doing back here?” Chico asked. “Why are you crying?”
The ghost looked around at everything and nothing, like she was lost in a maze.
“I’ve been roaming all night, searching for someone to warn,” she said. “I saw a boy here, but when I knocked, a man yelled at me.”
“That would be Mr. Kenning,” Zoe explained. “He gets pretty grumpy when it’s late.”
The ghost nodded.
“What’s the warning?” Albert asked.
The ghost sighed.
“We don’t have much time,” the ghost said. “First off, my name is Phyllis Vale.”
“As in Phyllis Vale, our town founder?” Chico asked.
“Yes. But long ago, my name was Phyllis Grimm. I founded the town and changed my name to get away from my father, Gregory Grimm.”
The name sounded familiar to Zoe, but she couldn’t quite place it. But when Phyllis described his appearance, Zoe and Chico both shivered.
“We…” Chico said, then looked at Zoe.
“We saw him in the park earlier,” she said with wide eyes. “Does this have anything to do with my vision?”
“Yes, I sent you the warning, and informed the only person in town I was able to find.”
“Listen, we need to go home and tell my father what’s going on,” Zoe said. “Can we meet you at the cemetery tomorrow? Say nine thirty?”
“Yes, dear children. My power is fading, but I’ll have enough for the last day of Samhain.”
They broke the huddle, the children jogging or floating away, and Phyllis slowly fading as she headed back to the cemetery.
When they reached Zoe’s house, she excused herself.
“This will go better if I talk to my dad alone,” she said to Albert and Chico. “We’ll meet up tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay, Zoe,” Chico said.
“I’ll stay up and keep an eye on Chico’s parchment in case you text,” Albert said.
They said goodnight, exchanged brief but excited fist bumps, and went their separate ways. The mystery building in Moonlight Valley needed to be solved. Immediately.
Zoe closed the door quietly, then turned to head into the living room where her father was sleeping. She startled suddenly as she realized that he was standing right in front of her, not saying a word.
“I’m sorry, dad!” she blurted.
Leo crossed his arms over his chest and stayed silent.
“There’s a situation,” Zoe tried to explain quickly. “It’s urgent, and I need your help.”
“Is anyone going to die from it in the next eight hours?” Leo asked angrily.
“No, but ghosts are mi-,” Zoe said, but was cut off.
“Then go to bed,” he said said shortly. “We’ll talk in the morning.”
Zoe opened her mouth to argue, but Leo held a finger up, indicating that there would be no further discussion. She trudged slowly up the stairs, her shoulders sagging, wondering why her father was sending her to bed without resolving their situation. She worried that if he was that angry, she might get grounded. But she had given Phyllis her word.
Zoe stopped in the middle of the stairs and turned to face her father.
“Aren’t you at least going to remind me to brush my teeth?” she asked.
“Yes, of course,” Leo said with an odd, crooked grin. “Go brush your teeth. Goodnight, sweety.”
Sweety? Zoe wondered. He didn’t call her by anything other than “punkin’” or “punkinpie.” She stared for a moment, and Leo’s angry expression returned.
“Go to bed. Now.”
Not wanting to risk further punishment, she went to her room.
A few minutes later, Leo stood at Zoe’s door, listening. When he heard her breathing slow and some light snoring start, he crept into the room. She stirred, but didn’t wake.
“Sleep, child,” Gregory Grimm said through Leo’s mouth. He stood at the foot of the bed and began to chant in an ancient language.
An ever so quiet whoosh sounded as blue flames erupted in a circle around her bed. They gave off no heat, but did illuminate the room and Zoe. The fire seemed to be drawn to her. She began glowing, exposing bones, veins, and organs. Her life force pulsed, small but bright.
He concentrated on the ritual, gazing back on Zoe’s ancestors. Face after face flashed by, the clothing styles getting older and older, back through the ages. He could feel that he was getting close.
His head twitched toward the noise, but his eyes remained closed. The faces faded slightly and became blurry for a moment, but refocused when he concentrated on the task.
Zoe rolled over and Gregory froze. As Leo, she wouldn’t be worried if she saw him, but the blue flame would give him away for sure. He stayed absolutely still for a full minute. Just when he was about to resume the ritual:
Gregory quietly groaned with anger and dropped his hands. The blue flames disappeared. He approached Zoe’s backpack, the source of the noise, and removed the parchment inside.
Hey, I can’t sleep, the message read, from some boy named Chico. Did everything go okay with your dad? Is he going to help?
Chico had written each message separately for some reason.
Gregory chuckled silently. The parchment system was older than he was. He couldn’t write back but he stowed in the closet so Zoe would not be woken by it.
I guess your sleeping. I will see you tomorrow, best friend.
With the matter settled, he focused again on the ritual. His eyes closed, but he watched faces fly by as he followed the blood line. As he scanned along, the faces became more familiar, until…
There, he thought, pausing on Phyllis’s face, then his own. Gregory smiled with Leo’s face.
Now for the blood.
He withdrew an athame from beneath Leo’s shirt, then ever so gently pricked Zoe’s finger. It took no effort, as he had made sure the blade was beyond razor sharp. Two slow, fat drops of blood hit the blade and absorbed into it.
Not wanting to risk anything, he put a protection spell on the athame and left Zoe’s room.
Gregory stood at the top of the stairs for a moment to relish in his victory. It was a major step in his plan of taking down Rommick, the black magic werewolf. For the time being, he would be happy just having Phyllis back. Even if he had to enchant her, she would join him in his fight.
As Gregory quietly made his way downstairs, a wave of exhaustion set over him. The ritual required a lot of power, and the ghost was nearly drained. He sat on the couch.
Then closed his eyes.
Just for a moment…
Gregory Grimm was now a step closer to success.
Chico woke early and immediately checked his parchment. He didn’t expect any new messages but he was still disappointed to see none.
Irene and Demetrio Cruz were in the living room enjoying coffee and fresh pastries from Pritchard’s Pantry.
“Good morning, Chico,” Irene said warmly. “I made you blueberry waffles. They’re warm on the table with some fresh maple syrup.”
Chico gobbled down five whole waffles, trying to balance out his impatience with his need for fuel. Once finished, he informed his adoptive parents that he’d be with Zoe for the day.
“I’m glad you’re keeping company with such an outstanding witch,” Irene said.
“Mm-hmm,” Demetrio agreed. He was a man of few words, especially with a mouth full of pastry.
“Will you be home for dinner?” Irene asked.
“Probably. Then I think we’ll head out again.”
He considered letting them in on some of the details, but didn’t want to worry them needlessly.
“We’re having an adventure before school starts,” he said with a smile.
“Okay, but not too late. And don’t forget your jacket. It’s going to be cold tonight.”
“Is Miquel still here?” Chico asked, hoping to have caught him before he returned to his college.
“No, he left at dawn,” Irene said, then saw the disappointment on Chico’s face. “He’ll be here for your birthday with something special, don’t worry. He just had an important test today.”
The disappointment changed to excitement. Chico had always wanted a computer, even more so after having played with Zoe, and he was sure that Irene and Demetrio were close to letting him have one. He hoped that would be his special birthday present.
Chico put on his jacket, then remembered Albert and the toy train that he was bound to.
Some friend I am, he thought as he slapped his forehead and headed back to his attic room.
“Albert, are you ready? Chico called quietly to the empty room.
Albert appeared and nodded.
“Just go invisible for a couple minutes until I get your train outside.”
“Sure thing,” Albert said, then hesitated.
“Don’t worry, I’ll introduce you at dinner,” Chico said with a smile, which Albert returned as he vanished.
About fifteen minutes later, Albert appeared next to Chico on Zoe’s porch. He heard the knocker announce both of them, a nice feeling of inclusion.
Leo answered the door looking like he hadn’t slept all night. His eyes were dark, and he was pale and sweaty.
“Yes?” Leo said to Chico and Albert. Chico looked at him with concern. Not just because of Leo’s appearance, but also because Leo had always been nothing but nice to him, and now it looked like he didn’t even recognize Chico.
“Good morning, Mr. Bloom,” Chico said. “Is Zoe awake?”
Leo simply shrugged and offered nothing more.
“May we wait inside?” Chico tried. “It’s cold and looks like rain.”
Leo shrugged again, then stepped aside to let the children by. Albert looked at him oddly and hesitated, so Chico urged him inside.
“Is it normal for Mr. Bloom to be two people?” Albert asked Chico as they sat on the couch. Leo had gone into the kitchen and sounded to be making coffee.
“What do you mean?” Chico asked.
Albert described a translucent blue ghost, crooked smile, blue eyes. Something flashed in Chico, a fearful warning from his subconscious, as he put the pieces together.
The park. Phyllis’s father. Mr. Bloom, he thought.
“Albert. Gregory Grimm is possessing Mr. Bloom,” he whispered to Albert. “We need to tell Zoe. Right now.”
Chico peeked into the kitchen and saw Gregory-as-Leo pouring water into a coffee pot. He signaled Albert to stay quiet, then led him upstairs. They wasted no time, shaking Zoe awake with a start. After a moment she recognized Chico and Albert and smiled. But the smile turned alarm as Chico quickly explained who was downstairs.
“I thought he was just mad!” Zoe said a little too loudly.
Chico shushed her and said: “We need to be careful, there’s no telling what he’ll do if he sees that we know.”
“My poor dad is possessed,” Zoe said sadly. Her eyes began to glisten. “We need to get to my grandpa for help.”
The boys agreed and waited outside Zoe’s room while she dressed. She came out a few minutes later wearing a Walking Dead t-shirt, jeans, combat boots, backpack, and jacket.
Chico smiled inwardly at the shirt. He was familiar with The Walking Dead, but only the first season. When the orphanage realized what the show was about, they immediately added it to their Inappropriate Viewing list. But Zoe had Netflix, so he’d catch up on the rest of it with her.
Leo coughed from somewhere downstairs, causing all three children to freeze stiff, and jolting Chico out of his comforting thought process.
“Just act normal,” Zoe said. “He doesn’t know that we know.”
They crept down the stairs and saw Gregory-Leo in the kitchen, sitting at the table, head down, staring into a cup of steaming coffee. Zoe waved Chico and Albert past the kitchen doorway, then stepped out herself.
Gregory-Leo looked up and locked eyes with her.
Zoe almost panicked, but decided to trust herself.
“Good morning, dad,” Zoe said with false cheer. “I’m going out with Chico. I’ll be home by dinner.”
Gregory-Leo gave her a crooked smile and nodded.
As soon as the three were out of view of the house, they broke into a run straight to Aldo’s cabin. Now this problem was personal to her so Zoe felt great urgency to solve it. She was worried. She should be.
The Necromancer sauntered down Lazy Axe Twist like he belonged there. Which he supposed he did. He even had some believable excuses ready in case he ran into anyone on his way to the Bloom’s house. In the crook of one arm he held a pie, a perfectly normal thing to be delivering during the holidays.
Mr. Kenning, the local bar owner, was outside mowing his lawn with an old self-push smoke belching mower. He waved, and the Necromancer returned the wave with a polite smile. Thankfully, Mrs. Kenning chose that moment to call her husband inside, saving The Necromancer from a time wasting conversation.
He passed the were-cat’s house, then the Cruzs. Mr. Ottoman was outside at his mail box. In another bit of luck, he didn’t look up, instead looking at the letters and mumbling, then returning to his house.
The Necromancer stepped onto Zoe’s porch and heard his name announced inside, then footsteps coming to the door. Gregory-Leo opened the door and looked down at the pie. Without a word, he motioned The Necromancer in and closed the door behind them.
“What kind of pie is it?” Gregory asked without any actual interest as he poured another cup of coffee for himself and one for The Necromancer.
“Apricot,” the warlock said. “The man you’re in likes it.”
“Throw it away,” Gregory said. He had only eaten a few apples, but couldn’t bring himself to eat anything other than a meat pie.
The Necromancer moved toward the trash can, but Gregory spoke again.
“Wait. Put it in the fridge. The brat is going to be home for dinner and I have no idea how to cook.”
“You can’t give her a pie for dinner,” The Necromancer said with a sigh. “She’ll know something is amiss. I’ll bring something later.”
“Fine,” Gregory said, then grinned. “Enough of that. I have news of the ritual.”
The Necromancer flinched at the grin, then listened as Gregory told him the results of the ritual. When it was over, he whistled in amazement.
She’s more important than I realized, he thought. A descendant of a Winter and a Grimm!
“Why are you still in Leo’s body?” The Necromancer asked.
“I was able to get some blood,” Gregory explained, “but I may need more. Unfortunately, I don’t know if this non-magical body is going to last much longer.”
“That can’t happen. The child’s missing mother is already missing. If her father inexplicably died, it would lead back to us.”
“Fine,” Gregory said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’ll leave him in the marsh when I’m finished. Does he have a parchment?”
“No, the two use Outsider technology to communicate. I don’t know much about it, but it can call and text. It’s that.”
He pointed at the cell-phone on the table. Gregory picked it up. He gave it a cursory glance before asking: “Does it break?”
“I suppose,” The Necromancer said, confused.
Gregory threw it to the ground, produced his wand, and cast a bolt of light at the phone. It shattered into pieces on the floor, looking like someone had stepped on it.
“I’ll leave a note,” Gregory said.
The Necromancer chuckled.
“Do you need help summoning your daughter?” he asked. “Ghosts that have crossed over can be difficult to reach.”
“Not with the blood,” Gregory said.
“If I require your assistance, I’ll tell you,” he said, cutting The Necromancer off.
The Necromancer scowled at Gregory, then left.
“Oh, okay. So I guess just pout!” Gregory called as The Necromancer closed the front door behind himself.
Alone at the table, Gregory-Leo shuddered. He wanted to be rid of The Necromancer, but he needed Phyllis first. Once he had her, he could pass on the killing curse to the warlock. Then, Moonlight Valley would be his and Phyllis’ to devour before his real revenge against Rommick. Ghost Grimm was going to do something and it would be soon.
The three Rejects reached Aldo’s house. Zoe was winded and Chico was sweating, but Albert, of course, showed no signs of fatigue.
Marigold answered the door seconds after the knocker sounded.
“I need to talk to gramps immediately,” Zoe said between breaths.
“I’m sorry dear, but he’s out tending to patients,” Marigold said. “Why don’t you come in and catch your breath? I’ll make you something to eat.”
Zoe lightly smacked her forehead for forgetting that Aldo probably wouldn’t be home.
“Sure, thank you,” she said to Marigold. Winter was nipping at fall and both kids that could feel temperature wanted to get in out of the cold.
“I’ll text him,” Zoe said to Chico. “I should have done that before we ran all the way here.”
The trio sat at the kitchen table. While Zoe dug her parchment out, Marigold set a large platter of tea and cookies in front of them.
“And who might you be, young man?” Marigold asked Albert.
“I’m Albert, ma’am,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”
“And he’s got manners!” Marigold said with a garish smile before returning to her various kitchen tasks.
Grandpa, Zoe wrote, my father has been possessed by ghost named Gregory Grimm, and something is going on with the ghosts in town. Please hurry home, we’re waiting for you here.
She set the parchment on the table and took a sip of her tea. Albert started to say something, but Zoe shook her head and pointed at Marigold. She didn’t want to alarm the fairy.
Are you sure? Aldo wrote back.
My friend, Albert, is a ghost. We tested it, and we’re sure.
Stay right there. I’m on my way.
Relief washed over Zoe. She was glad to finally have an adult involved.
“What happens if I drink it?” Albert asked. He was holding his mug of tea and looking into the steaming liquid.
“It will just spill onto the floor,” Zoe said.
“So I can taste, but everything just…falls through me?”
He didn’t seem to be sad about the fact. Very curious, actually. He decided to just enjoy the scent of the tea and not make a mess.
As Zoe finished her sentence, the front door swung open and Aldo rushed in. He haphazardly tossed his riding broom in the corner, tossed his satchel of medicines on the counter, and put a hand on Zoe’s shoulder.
“Let’s go into the study,” he said, then walked away.
The children followed.
“I’ll bring you tea!” Marigold said to no one in particular.
They all found various places to sit while Aldo put a log into the stove. He then sat and lit his pipe.
“Tell me everything,” Aldo said.
The boys looked at Zoe, who seemed to be their voice. She explained everything regarding her father and the missing ghosts, but left out their meeting with Phyllis. Zoe was anxious to save her father and didn’t want to waste time on other matters. If she told Aldo, he may make them stay.
When the story was over, Aldo sat in silent contemplation, puffing on his pipe. Only when he was absolutely sure of his plan did he speak to the children again.
“First, I’m going to text High Officer Verdelet,”said Aldo.
The children watched as Aldo wrote on his parchment, waited for a reply, then wrote again. He set the parchment down.
“I know I can’t keep you away from this, Zoe,” Aldo said. “But at least keep your distance. Mr. Phan is going to confirm what happened to your father.”
“What about me?” Albert asked. “I can’t be hurt.”
“You most certainly can,” Aldo said. “Powerful ghosts can take another ghost’s essence.”
“Is that what happened to the ghosts in town?” Zoe asked.
“It might be,” Aldo said, causing Albert to shiver.
“Let’s go, children. Time isn’t on our side.”
Aldo and the kids reached the Bloom house at the same time as the security detachment that Verdelet had sent. It was Mr. Phan and two elves. They all mounted the porch and waited as the knocker announced them.
They waited a full minute before Aldo just opened the door. Zoe, Chico, and Albert remained on the porch while the others searched the house.
“He’s not here,” Aldo said as he came back out to the porch.
“I can call or text him,” Zoe suggested.
Mr. Phan stepped outside with them.
“We found a broken cell phone and a note,” he said. “‘Zoe, I’ll be home late. There’s a pie in the fridge for you.’”
“See?” Zoe said. “Dad would never miss dinner.”
“We can’t scry for him or anything but I promise we will find your father,”Phan said.
“What do we do right now?” Aldo asked.
“For now, we’re closing off the house as a crime scene. Can the girl stay with you?”
“I would prefer to keep my maid from getting involved,” Aldo said. “Chico, can she stay with you until I send word?”
“Of course, Mr. Winter,” Chico said.
“Thank you, gramps. And thank you, Mr. Phan,” Zoe said, then the three children left for Chico’s house.
Zoe felt time was running out on the situation. It was.
Zoe, Chico, and Albert tried finding Phyllis all day with no result. When dinner time came around, they went to Chico’s house. His adoptive parents were shocked Chico told them what was happening.
Zoe texted Aldo to check in, and was saddened by his reply:
The security team is out physically looking for him now. I wish they would update me more. That’s all I know right now. Stay strong.
She maintained a strong appearance, but was terrified inside. The thought of losing her father and mother was almost too much to bear.
Time crawled by. Zoe ate, but without vigor, even skipping dessert. There was a bright moment during dinner when Demetrio and Irene offered to care for Albert for as long as he needed it. The meal was otherwise uneventful.
Later, in Chico’s room, the children sat on the floor morosely. Irene and Demetrio had insisted that they stay indoors while the adults looked for Leo and sorted out the missing ghosts.
“I say we sneak out,” Zoe suggested impatiently. “We made a promise to Phyllis.”
“How are we supposed to do that?” Chico asked. “My parents will see us.”
“What about a window?” Albert asked.
“I don’t have a ladder or anything up here.”
“I studied a slow fall spell,” Zoe said. “I’ve never tried it, but it didn’t sound hard.”
“Don’t you need a wand?” Albert asked.
“Not for this. I’m a Touch Know,” Zoe answered.
Chico stood up and agreed, so the trio approached the window. But seeing how far down the back yard was caused Zoe to hesitate.
“What do you think will happen if the spell doesn’t work?” she asked.
“Broken bones, probably,” Chico said. “Worst case: broken necks.”
Zoe’s throat clicked as she swallowed.
“I’ll go first,” she said, then recited the spell: “Slow and steady. I am ready to go down, down down, safe and sound.”
“We probably just have to try it to see if it worked,” Chico said.
Zoe nodded and scooted out of the window until she was seated on the edge.
“I know it’s cliche, but don’t look down!” Chico said.
She laughed nervously, closed her eyes, and pushed off the window sill. Then she was falling, endlessly, like in the dream of her mother. She braced for the impact on the yard below. Luckily, it wasn’t cement, but she knew that landing on grass from that high up would still hurt tremendously.
After a second of wondering why she hadn’t landed, Zoe opened her eyes. About six feet behind her, the distance slowly increasing, Albert and Chico looked on with wide eyes. When she finally landed, they all let out a silent cheer.
Then Chico assumed the same position that Zoe had.
Zoe said the spell again, while pointing and looking at and concentrating on Chico.
He scooted off like she did and slowly floated down. Zoe maintained perfect concentration on Chico and his fall speed, until a dog barked nearby. Chico fell the last few feet, right onto his butt.
Zoe gasped, but he jumped to his feet with a laugh.
“That was fun,” he said.
“Not for me,” Zoe said. “I could have hurt you.”
“I trust you,” he said, then saw the deeply etched worry on her face. “Hey, don’t worry. You did it. I’m fine.”
It was a minor lie, as he was sure his butt would be sore in the morning, but he didn’t want Zoe worried.
Misty Pines Cemetery was mostly deserted. It was a school and work night, so most of the visitors had already gone home for the evening. The children went to the south gate and called Phyllis’ name. A mist rolled out of the fog and materialized into Phyllis.
“I don’t have much time,” she said.
Zoe jumped in, not wanting to waste any time either.
“Your father is possessing mine,” she said with frustration at the edges of her voice. “And he might be responsible for the missing ghosts.”
“Oh my,” Phyllis said. She knew how powerful her father had been, and was worried that she had lost some of her black magic ability after having her powers bound. But she had no choice. As the town founder, it was her duty to help however she could.
“Please, Phyllis,” Zoe said. “Help us.”
“I will,” she said, watching a bit of hope break through the desperation on their faces. “He’s probably at his grave in the marsh, but I don’t know where that is. When I was alive, his grave was still in the Hallowed Forest.”
“I bet Pinx can help with that,” Chico said.
Zoe nodded, but was again overcome with worry, this time about the marsh. The bogey had changed her entire perception of it. Seeing danger first hand instead of reading about it tends to have that effect. But, if her father was there, she would find him. She had to.
“You guys don’t have to go,” Zoe said to the group.
Chico looked at her with mock scowl and put his hands on his hips.
“Zoe Bloom, we’re best friends now. And best friends stick together like taffy, fly paper…glue.”
He paused in thought, but came up empty.
“And that’s call I can think of. The point is, where you go, I go. From now on. No matter what.”
“Me too!” Albert said.
“Thanks, guys,” Zoe said with a smile. “And thank you, Phyllis.”
They had gone through the forest, and were now at the threshold between good land and bad, where the marsh met the forest.
Zoe didn’t remember how to call on Pinx, so Chico did it for them. Moments later, the wisp zipped up to them.
“Hi, Pinx,” Chico said. “Thank you for coming. We need to find Gregory Grimm’s grave marker. Do you know where it is?”
Pinx bobbed a few times.
“She thinks knows where it is,” Zoe translated. “But she hasn’t been there in a long time.”
“You would trust a wisp?” Phyllis asked. She had never known one to be good.
“Of course. Especially Pinx,” Zoe said. “She saved us from a bogey.”
Zoe told Phyllis the story as they made their way deeper into the marsh, following Pinx. But before long, the story was over, and the group trudged tiredly through the mud.
“Do you want to rest?” Chico asked Zoe. They had been plunging ahead at full speed for an hour. Their two ghosts companions didn’t tire, and waited patiently for Zoe and Chico to catch their breath.
Without warning, Phyllis cried out.
“By the Goddess! He’s summoning me!”
Zoe and Chico jumped to their feet.
“What do you mean?” Chico asked.
“I can feel the pull of a blood to blood ritual,” Phyllis said. “It will bind me to him. Please help!”
“What can we do?” Zoe asked, panic in her voice. If they lost Phyllis, there would be no way for them to stop Gregory Grimm.
“I don’t think I can stop it,” Phyllis said, panic in her voice as well. “But I can take you with me. Quick, take my hands!”
Zoe grabbed one hand, and Chico grabbed the other and one of Albert’s.
Suddenly, there was only blackness. Zoe felt an odd detachment from her body, like she was just a cloud. Just when she was starting to get nervous about how long it was taking, they appeared at a grave marker.
Gregory-Leo stood in the center of a red circle of flame. A makeshift altar had been placed near the marker.
The first thing Zoe saw was that crooked grin.
“Let my father go!” she yelled.
Gregory’s grin faltered for a moment when he saw four figures appear in front of him instead of just the one he was expecting. But when he realized who Phyllis had brought, the grin became even wider.
Could it really be this easy? he thought. Gregory wanted to see if Phyllis could take their life force and be done with them. But another thought occurred to him: Zoe was a blood relative, and with Grimm in her line, she would likely grow to be quite powerful. Especially if she turned to black magic on her thirteenth birthday. An ally like that thrilled him.
“My greatest granddaughter,” Gregory said to Zoe in Leo’s voice. “It is good to see you again.”
Although Zoe knew that it wasn’t her father, hearing his voice still soothed her.
“What?” she asked, confused.
“We’re related by blood,” Gregory said.
“No, you’re just possessing dad!”
“No,” he said, relishing in delivering the upsetting news. “You, me, Phyllis. We’re all Grimms.”
Chico and Albert looked at her with wide eyes, but not fear. Grimm or Bloom, they still trusted her.
“But the Grimms were black magic,” Zoe said. “Does that mean I will be too?”
“I would be delighted if you turn out to be. But we’re going to have to wait for your birthday.”
“No!” Zoe screamed. “I don’t want to be black magic. I’m going to be a white witch, like my mother!”
“You have no choice,” he said. “It’s your born right.”
“I can choose!”
“You cannot,” Gregory said, then turned his focus back to the ritual. “Now step aside. I have work to do.”
Zoe’s head was spinning. It was too much to handle at once, so she pushed it down and focused on helping her father and her friends. There would be time to address the issue later.
Phyllis floated toward the altar, then above it, seeming to be pulled their rather than moving willingly. Gregory spoke a language none of them had ever heard. It wasn’t loud, but it somehow hurt her ears. She covered them, and looked over to see Chico doing the same. Albert stood staring and wide eyed.
Phyllis spun in a blur above the altar. Her ghostly opacity became just a little more solid, and a little darker. As Gregory’s chanting slowed, then stopped, she did as well. When it was finished, Phyllis looked at Gregory and smiled.
“Thank you, father,” she said, then turned to Zoe. “Welcome to the family, Zoe.”
Phyllis had malicious thoughts of tearing the children to pieces. Things were about to change for Zoe right then.
High Officer Verdelet despised the marsh, and not just because of the smell and mud stains. Over the years, many people had gotten lost in it, despite his best efforts to keep a border in place. But with it constantly shifting, fencing was impossible.
Normally, he’d send a the security team, but with a ghost like Gregory Grimm running around, he had to be on point.
Behind him, Mr. Phan and his best officers were fanned out and searching.
Nym and Gantar, brothers born of an elf mother and dwarf father, were actually quite tall considering their heredity. Most elves stood around three and a half feet, while these two were both slightly under five feet.
The Fenros, four more brothers, were full elf. Not that they were small. On the contrary, all four were bulky and physically powerful on top of their excellent magic skills. They were also well learned with a wand and magic. Their names were very complicated to translate, so they simply went by nicknames: Punch was the oldest, then Champ, Bullseye, and Meatball, the youngest.
The will-o-wisp Verdelet had originally been following turned out to be a bit of a trickster. For years the wisp had been nothing but helpful, but that night it had led them out for two hours into the search then took off. Some of the officers thought that maybe it was Verdelet, as he had lost three wisps under similar circumstances. But they never voiced their concerns.
After calling for half an hour, a new wisp finally came along. Her name was Lura, and she was a lovely shade of canary yellow. She was now guiding them for their third excursion into the marsh.
Verdelet heard voices ahead and a dull, red glow. He held up a fist and the officers behind him stopped. When he motioned for them to move forward, they did so slowly and quietly.
When Verdelet saw Gregory Grimm, he gathered his men in close for a quick pep talk.
“Get ready, team,” he whispered with authority. “That’s a powerful ghost, so be ready for anything.
“Yes, sir!” the team responded.
With puffed chests and straighter posture, they broke into a run to confront Gregory. Time had run out. It was now or never for all.
“Not her, Phyllis!” Gregory yelled. “We’re going to need her in the future.”
Phyllis looked back at Gregory-Leo, then nodded. She stopped approaching Zoe and waited for instruction from her father. Besides, the young warlock had a special look about him and would likely provide a better feed.
“If you need me, then let my father go!” Zoe cried. “I’ll do whatever you want.”
Gregory nodded and shrugged. There was no reason to keep the disguise. He took a few steps back while Leo’s body stayed in place, then crumpled into a heap on the ground. Zoe rushed to the body and put a hand on her father’s chest, checking for breathing. He seemed to be okay, but he was out cold.
As Zoe was doing that, Chico and Albert put themselves between her and Gregory. Albert looked back at Zoe.
“What should I do?” he asked desperately.
“It’s too late for you,” Gregory said, then stepped forward, towering over them. He nodded to Phyllis, who responded with an evil grin, then laughed coldly, like his steely blue eyes.
With no preamble, no warm up, no waving of wands or hands, no recitation of spells, Phyllis Grimm simply…gobbled him up. One moment Albert was there, his fearful eyes boring into Zoe’s, then he screamed, just a pip was all he had time for, then he was gone.
Zoe gasped, too stunned for words.
Chico went on the offensive. Enraged, he began swinging his fists wildly at Gregory. But the swings simply floated through him.
“Albert!” Zoe shrieked, finally able to get her vocal chords working. “Give them back!”
Phyllis turned to her father and asked: “Do you want him, father? Or should I take him?”
Gregory, his face strained, continued manipulating his translucent body against Chico’s blows while he answered: “Yes, take him.”
In a flash, Phyllis was in front of Chico. She shoved him to the ground where he hit his head on a rock. Stars exploded in his vision and a wave of nausea coursed through his belly almost right away. He tried raising his fists, but his arms were like rubber.
“Don’t you…dare touch…my best friend!” he slurred.
Phyllis ignored him as she dropped onto his chest and placed her right hand over his heart.
Chico began convulsing.
“Leave him alone!” Zoe yelled.
Out of nowhere, a bolt of white light smacked Phyllis away from Chico. It couldn’t have been Chico, and Zoe wasn’t powerful enough for that. Then she looked behind Zoe. A goblin led the charge, with the elves spaced out evenly behind him like an arrow.
High Officer Verdelet was the point.
“Meddlers! You’ll pay!” Phyllis yelled at them, then raised her wand in their direction.
Zoe rushed to Chico, and Verdelet broke off from the moving formation to bodily shield Zoe. His wand raised, pointing menacingly at Phyllis.
“Surround them!” Verdelet yelled.
At his command, the four Fenros, seemed to materialize out of the darkness to Zoe right. The elves rushed in, each holding a ruby, wands ready.
“Now!” Verdelet’s voice boomed. “Trap and bind them!”
The four brothers, joined now by Nym and Gantar, pushed to their objective, each placing a ruby in a circle around Phyllis and Gregory. A dome of bright, white light, like lightly frosted glass, surrounded them. Unfortunately, Leo was still on the ground and within the dome, but they would have to deal with that later.
“Go!” Gregory yelled to his daughter.
“I can’t!” Phyllis wailed.
“Fenros, you’re up!” Verdelet called.
The four elves held their wands, at the dome. In low voices, so low that Zoe could only make out bits and pieces they chanted. Nym produced a simple vanity mirror, then looked at Gantar.
Their plan was to bind Gregory Grimm to the mirror. There was no contingency plan for his daughter being mesmerized to his side.
Gantar fumbled in his pockets, then produced a tooth pick. He looked at Nym, and they both gave each other a shrug.
It’ll have to do, the shrug said in their unspoken brotherly language.
Gregory screamed in rage, blasting bolts of red light at anything and everything. The bolts simply fizzled out when it hit the dome of the trap. Desperately, he flung himself at the trap with all the strength he could muster. If he could just reach the boy…
Then he did. His hands reached out, but something blocked him.
It was rare, but people are born with immunity to possession. And it was just Gregory’s luck that this particular boy would happen to have been born with it. His strength almost fully sapped, he had no choice but to allow himself to be pulled back into the trap.
As Gregory made his move, Phyllis made hers. With the same tremendous effort, she pushed herself into Zoe. She grabbed her, and at the same time took her over, using her physical and mental strength to pull possess the young witch.
“Let him go, or I’ll destroy this body!” Phyllis said with Zoe’s voice. To emphasize her point, she slapped herself with Zoe’s hand. It left an angry red mark on her cheek, and the sharp crack caused everyone to look at her.
“Cease casting!” Verdelet yelled, but it was two late. The Fenros stopped chanting, but Nym was already holding the mirror at Gregory. The ghost pushed, clawed, and fought, but was pulled into the object and bound.
Phyllis-Zoe stood at her full height, small but cagey.
“Let him go!” she yelled, then bared her teeth over the soft flesh of her wrist. “I’ll do it!”
With their chanting on hold and Phyllis’ focus no longer on Chico, Punch and Meatball pulled Chico behind their brothers. The elvish medics performed a quick assessment of Chico and found only a small bump on his head from hitting a rock. He appeared fine otherwise, so they sat him up and let him sip from an emergency potion.
Phyllis-Zoe slowly sidestepped to Leo’s unconscious body and held a palm over it threateningly.
“I’ll take him too!” she yelled.
As Verdelet coolly watched the scene unfold, something clicked into place in his memory, something from his countless hours of training and study.
“Zoe!” he said loudly, forcefully, but with the cold, commanding authority that only law enforcers seem to get just right.
Phyllis-Zoe’s eyes snapped to Verdelet’s and bored into them with burning anger.
“You can fight her, Zoe!” Verdelet said, then to Chico: “Help me get through to her!”
Chico stood on wobbly legs.
“Zoe! Fight her!” he yelled.
Phyllis-Zoe clutched her head like she had a bad headache and cried out.
“Fight harder Zoe!” Chico yelled.
“I’m going to end you! Get out of me!”
The shout sounded like Phyllis again, but more like Zoe at the end.
“You can’t stop me!” Phyllis said.
“How can you do this?” Zoe asked. “You bound your black magic and built this town with goodness!”
All eyes were on Zoe and the two way conversation she was having with herself.
“I’m loyal to my father and no one else!”
“But we’re kin,” Zoe said. Her voice was lower, more forceful. “I know your father is important to you. Mine is too, don’t you see?”
Phyllis-Zoe looked around with confusion, divided in focus and will.
“I care about you,” Zoe said. “I thought you were my mother at first, and even though I was disappointed that you weren’t, I’m glad I followed you. Because I got to know you. This town is good. You’re good. And you make me proud to be a Moonlighter.”
“No…this isn’t…” Phyllis said.
“Come back to us.”
Zoe held on patiently while Phyllis’ mind swirled with new memories, mostly of growing up with her father, his intense desire for power, and only caring about Phyllis because of hers.
And Phillip, she thought, the sudden memory of him coming to the surface. I wanted love, and I found it in Phillip, not my father. My loyalty is to this town, not him.
It looked like some strange film effect as Zoe and Phyllis stepped away from one another, becoming two beings again.
“Oh, Zoe! I’m so sorry,” Phyllis said.
“Remove the trap,” said Verdelet still in a commanding voice.
Phyllis stood meekly in under the transparent dome, head in her hands, crying quietly.
The Fenros eyed him with an unspoken are you sure? look on their face.
“Do it. The spell that took her away from us is broken. She’s our town founder again.”
The security team plucked the six rubies from the ground and the trap dissipated.
Punch and Meatball moved in to tend to Leo, cautiously watching Phyllis the whole time. Zoe followed behind them and focused on Phyllis. She was concerned for her father, but she wanted to make sure that Phyllis was truly pacified.
“Zoe, I’m so sorry,” Phyllis said. “I…I remember everything; my husband, my children, this town. My first daughter looked just like you. She was brave and kind hearted, just like you. And she was the first white magic witch in the Grimm blood line.”
“I love you, Phyllis,” Zoe said, then hugged her.
“I love you, too”said Phyllis.
“Ugh, I had a terrible nightmare,” Zoe heard her father say. She broke away from her embrace with Phyllis and threw her arms around her father.
“Oh, hi Zoe,” Leo said groggily, hugging her back. “I dreamed you were in trouble. Or…at least I think it was a dream.”
“Dad, so much has happened,” Zoe said.
Leo looked around with confusion at the odd assortment of elves, half elves, goblin, and ghosts. He was slowly regaining his faculties, but still felt half asleep.
“Tell me everything after my head stops pounding,” he said.
Punch handed Leo a small bottle.
“This potion should help,” he said gruffly, but with compassion.
“What about Albert?” Chico asked from behind the group. He stood strong and steady, the effects of Phyllis’ attempt on his life worn off.
Silence gripped the group. None of them had forgotten about Albert or the other ghosts, but mourning tends to take a back seat to the stress of battle.
Everyone hung their heads. Except Phyllis.
“Wait!” she said urgently. “There’s no need for sadness!”
They all watched as she closed her eyes, shook her head, then stepped and split into two forms: one Phyllis, the other a shorter and skinnier Albert.
Albert looked around with wild, panicked eyes. When he saw Phyllis, he scrambled backwards right into Chico, who put a calming arm around his friend’s ghostly shoulders and explained what happened.
Albert nodded, but continued watching Phyllis with suspicion. The last thing he remembered was being pulled toward her, into her, then being ejected.
Verdelet stepped forward. Clutched in his hand was the mirror.
“Mrs. Vale,” he said respectfully, but with urgency. “What of the other ghosts?”
“I’m sorry. My father has them,” she answered with her head hung slightly.
Verdelet put his hands on his hips and bowed his head in thought.
“I didn’t get your name,” Phyllis said.
“High Officer Verdelet, ma’am,” he said, holding his right hand out.
Phyllis shook it as best she could. She was weakened from the fray and was having trouble maintaining her corporeality.
“I’m glad to meet someone in authority. You know…we started the town with a goblin as our first High Officer.”
“That would have been my great great grandfather,” he said proudly. “My family has always lead the security force here in Moonlight Valley.”
“Well, you are doing an excellent job. Thank you for helping us.”
“It’s my job, ma’am,” he said with a professional smile then added,“Officers, let’s move out!”
Pinx and Lura lead the group. Verdelet, Phyllis, and Phan were followed by the medics, who supported Leo, ready to carry him out if needed. Behind them, Zoe, Chico, and Albert walked in a group, trailed by the rest of the security force.
“What is the ghost officer’s name?” Albert whispered to Zoe and Chico.
“Mr. Phan,” they both answered, then smiled at the uniformity of their answers.
Albert floated ahead to Phan, who was keeping a slow pace with Verdelet.
“Excuse me, Mr. Phan,” Albert said politely.
“Yes, son?” Phan asked.
“I was wondering if you knew anything about my parents, the Greens.”
“Ah, the Greens. Lived where the Cruzs are now,” Phan said with a nod. “They moved off to Chicago after they lost you.”
“Are they still alive?” Albert asked with sudden hope in his voice.
“I don’t know, but I’ll check with our Chicago office and find out for you.”
“Prioritize it,” Verdelet interjected. “Mrs. Vale is going to assist me with the ghost extraction, so you can take care of Mr. Green here.”
“Oh, thank you, Officer Phan, Officer Verdelet!” he said, flooded with relief, and excitement at the new lead.
Phan winked at the smiling ghost boy as he returned to Zoe and Chico, then watched happily as Albert shared the news with his friends. He remembered trying to help Chico with his similar situation, which was still unresolved.
Phan had followed what little clues there were. The investigation had stalled when they tried to locate a former employee of the orphanage: Grace Baker. Without an Outsider private detective, the farthest he could go was a bogus forwarding address in Colorado, likely set up with a bogus Outsider ID card.
Zoe interrupted his drifting thoughts as she sidled up next to Verdelet and matched his pace.
“Are the ghosts going to be okay, High Officer Verdelet?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered confidently. “We have a one hundred percent extraction rate. They’ll be just fine.”
Zoe let out the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding.
“What are you going to do, Phyllis?” she asked the ghost.
“I’m going to assist High Officer Verdelet, then return to the Afterworld,” she said with a touch of sadness. “But I’d love to visit on Samhain, if you’d like.”
“I would! I only have my dad and gramps for family,” Zoe said, then added quietly: “Plus, it would be nice to have another girl to talk to.”
“I’m going to do everything I can to help you find your mother,” Phyllis said, reading between the lines.
“Yeah, her too. I need her right now.”
“I know the feeling.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Zoe said quietly, so that only Phyllis could hear. “I’ve been showing signs of black magic, and I’m turning thirteen in two months.”
“I know the feeling,” Phyllis repeated.
Zoe looked at her, then realized her faux pas.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay,” Phyllis said with a happy chuckle. “The possibility is there, yes. But being bound doesn’t mean you can’t have a good life. Mine was wonderful.”
“But what if I give into it?”
“You’re strong, Zoe. And loving. It takes both to fight it, and look what you just did? I defeated the urge, and you defeated me. To save your friends and family.”
“So you really think I could fight it?” Zoe asked hopefully.
“Absolutely,” Phyllis answered, a partial truth. What she didn’t say was that it had also taken a hefty scoop of soul gnawing guilt and shame. When she had been under Gregory’s influence, a great flood of memories came crashing through, mostly of people she had hurt and lives she had ruined when the black magic corruption had taken hold. Without Phillip Vale pulling her back and showing her what real happiness was like, she likely never would have agreed to binding her powers.
That’s too much burden for a twelve year old right now, she thought.
Some time later, they emerged from the forest onto Lazy Axe Twist.
“Okay, folks,” he said, addressing the civilians. “It’s late. I’ll need statements tomorrow but Zoe, I need you to report in the morning,”
Zoe hoped that they the officer would forget about that situation but apparently he did have a good memory. Zoe would now have to face the consequences of her Halloween incident.
Their first stop was Chico’s house. Along the way, Leo’s confusion evaporated as Chico and Zoe told him about what had happened. At the front door, Leo offered to go in with Chico, but the boy wanted to explain things on his own. As he started to enter the house, Leo grabbed him gently by the shoulder.
“You’re very good for Zoe,” Leo said. “Thank you for helping her. You’re welcome in our home any time.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bloom,” he said, then shut the door behind him.
Irene and Demetrio were already rushing to the foyer having heard him enter. Demetrio stood a pace back as Irene rushed him. She wanted to hug him out of relief but knew he wasn’t ready for it.
“We were so worried about you,” she said with a tear in her eye. Even Demetrio was looking a bit misty.
“High Officer Verdelet told us everything,” Demetrio said, then put a hand on Chico’s shoulder. “We’re proud of you.”
“Our messy hero,” Irene said, trying to smooth his muddy hair. “I’ll get the Marigold Mix and a bath ready.”
Chico realized that it was a school day tomorrow, and started the long clean up process. The past three days were too crazy for his taste.
Zoe, on the other hand, had enjoyed it. For her it was an adventure. Even giving her statement to Verdelet would be secretly fun for her.
“Let’s invite Chico over for dinner,” Leo said.
They were almost home, and both were ready to collapse.
Zoe managed a laugh in spite of her exhaustion.
“That might not be a great idea, dad,” she said.
“Why not? He’s your friend, you’ll be spending a lot of time together. Right?”
“Yeah, dad. But your cooking…”
“What’s wrong with my cooking?” Leo asked with mock defensiveness. “You eat it every night.”
“Can we just ask Marigold to cook us something?”
“Okay,” Leo said with a nod. “Maybe she’ll give me some lessons.”
As Zoe drifted off to sleep, fresh from a hot bath, her thoughts began to focus on the events of Halloween, and the possible repercussions. It would not be what she anticipated.
Zoe and Verdelet walked solemnly into the Grand Chamber. Leo had wanted to be there, but Zoe wanted to handle the matter herself. Leo agreed with some trepidation but realized it was magic business.
The chamber was where all final decisions at the town level were made. To Zoe’s left, a doorway lead to the Magister’s office, and to her right was the Magistra’s. Both offices were empty, however, as the two main authorities now sat in front of Zoe on a raised platform.
Daria Rane, acting Magistra in Stacia’s absence, scowled at the sight of the young witch.
“Another Bloom in trouble again,” she whispered to Magister Wiggins.
Eryx said nothing. He had long ago tired of the feud between Stacia and Daria, which dated back to even before they attended the Academy. Daria had fought hard for the Magistra position, but Stacia had proven the better witch in the end.
For the next seven years, Daria as acting Magistra tried to get Stacia removed. It was a ten year position so Stacia only had three more years to return and take back the job. Daria vowed it would be her and she would run again. So far she had no opposition.
“Sit,” Daria said, indicating a single chair in the center of the room.
Verdelet bowed slightly to the authorities, gave Zoe a comforting nod, then paced smartly out of the room.
Zoe sat, and gulped.
“So, we hear you’re having trouble controlling your magic,” Daria said bluntly, and with no attempt to conceal her dislike of the girl.
“Why don’t you tell us what happened,” Eryx said.
Zoe told them about the door, the woman under it, and their escape. During the story, Daria seemed to alternate between seeming unimpressed and staring daggers at Zoe. Eryx continued smiling pleasantly.
“High Officer Verdelet reported the same information,” Daria said. “We’ve come to a decision.”
Then why did I have to explain it all again? Zoe wondered.
“Step forward please, Zoe,” Eryx said.
She approached them, and Eryx handed her a silver bracelet with a charm.
“Put it on,” Daria said coldly.
Zoe slipped the bracelet over her right wrist and instantly felt a strange sensation. She wanted to ask what was going on, but decided to trust the Magisters.
“That bracelet will bind your powers,” Daria explained. “You are to wear it until you turn thirteen.”
Zoe’s eyes went wide, and Eryx saw the fear on her face.
“Don’t worry, dear,” he said. “You can take it off at school and for homework, but it must be on any time you go to the Outside.”
“Especially then,” Daria said. “Any more incidents of out of control magic will not be handled so nicely.”
“Daria, really,” Eryx whispered to her. “We don’t want to scare her.”
Daria glared at him. Magistras always had the final say, and Daria looked at it as insubordination any time someone contradicted her. Defeated, Eryx said nothing more.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Daria asked. She was hoping to spur Zoe into an argument that would allow her to punish the girl even further. Daria knew that her daughters didn’t approve of Zoe. She was as bad as Stacia.
“Just thank you,” Zoe said, surprising Daria and Eryx. “I can handle this.”
“Be responsible with it,” Eryx cautioned.
“If you’re not, it will be locked in place until your birthday,” Daria said icily.
The statement gave Zoe pause. She didn’t want to be helpless if another Gregory Grimm showed up. But she accepted the consequence.
“I will, Magister, Magistra. I promise.”
As if the word of a Bloom ever meant anything, Daria thought. With the news that Zoe was related to Phyllis Grimm, Daria hoped to find some excuse to exile the girl and her Outsider father.
“You are excused,” Magister Wiggins said.
Daria gave him another glare for having the final words, then stood and walked away to her office. She said nothing, letting the slammed door be a message in itself.
Zoe stood and looked at the door with confusion. She didn’t understand why the Magistra seemed so angry. She also worried about Chico, and how he would feel about her not being able to practice magic.
Maybe having my powers bound is a good thing, she thought. I’ll know what to expect if I turn out to be black magic.
Zoe has many things on her mind. If she and Chico will remain best friends when he gets his power before her. Was the dream of her mother a sign or a message also what kind of witch she will be. She needs to talk to Chico. He will be there for her.
The Necromancer fumed.
Foiled again by a Bloom, he thought angrily. He wouldn’t underestimate her again. But with Gregory Grimm locked in the lead safe at the Security Office, The Necromancer needed another way to learn the Meordusax. He’d heard rumors of a werewolf named Rommick that knew the curse. Phyllis Grimm was no longer an option. Not only could she expose him, but he needed Gregory for the blood the ritual to call her.
The Necromancer had two months to gain enough power to be sure he could keep Zoe from ruining his plans. Until then, he would practice on some of the other students at the Academy, perhaps one with a birthday tonight. There would be one.
Later that evening, the various ghosts of Moonlight Valley began returning to their usual haunts. Phyllis had managed to convince Gregory to release them. His only condition was that she visit him when she could. Until the Magisters came up with a more permanent solution, he would be held in the lead safe, bound to the mirror. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than the Void.
Gregory even considered turning his life around. Perhaps do some good and earn his way into the Afterworld.
Gwen went straight back to chasing animals. Wilbur resumed his watch over the Town Center. Palehill returned to his classroom and a game of chess with Vasaam. Not all of them would remember the time of being consumed by Ghost Grimm. Palehill would.
Zoe raced to school, combat boots pounding steadily on the gravel road. She was excited to see Chico.
When she arrived at the school, winded from the run, Chico was in front.
“Wow, you’re going to fall over,” he said. “Maybe we should do some jogging.”
“Not in these boots,” Zoe said with a broad smile, then showed him the bracelet and told him about her meeting with the Magisters and her concerns.
“Wow,” he said when she finished, and just as the bell rung. “Well, let’s stick together, best friend.”
Zoe was relieved that he didn’t flinch when she told him about her powers being bound, and happy that their friendship would continue on strongly.
“So, my birthday is coming up,” Chico said as they walked to class. “What do you think will happen?”
“Anything,” Zoe said with a laugh.
“Simon, come back!” Tommy Tucker yelled. The Siamese kitten familiar ignored him, chasing a brave, low flying humming bird through the forest. He had only picked the kitten out earlier that day, immediately after his Born Right ceremony.
When the bird reached the marsh, it immediately changed direction and zipped off. The kitten stopped as well, knowing even at his young age that the marsh was not a good place.
“Let’s go, Simon,” Tommy said to the kitten. “Before we both get in trouble.”
When he turned to go back in the direction they had come from, his vision filled with a dark face, hidden by a hood.
A wand waved in front of his face. Then all Tommy saw was a flash.
The Necromancer had found his target.
Tommy woke with his back against a tree in Hallowed Fores with Simon curled up in his lap. His head pounded and he felt drained.
Guess I dozed off, he thought, remembering nothing after chasing Simon into the forest.
It wasn’t until he walked in the front door that he realized how long he had been gone. Tommy’s mother immediately embraced him and covered his face in kisses, but his father had a stern look on his face.
“Two hours,” Tommy’s father said. “You’re lucky it’s your birthday, or you’d be in big trouble, young man.”
“Oh, relax,” his mother said, still hugging her son.
His father said nothing, but gave his son a wink and walked off.
“I’m going to clean up and head to bed, okay mom?” Tommy said. His headache was going away, but the drained feeling hung on.
He said goodnight to his parents, and went to his room. His normal routine was to watch television before bed but when he recited a word and waved his wand to turn it on, nothing happened. Assuming he was saying the spell wrong, he turned the television on with the remote and settled in.
The room was warm, so Tommy took his wand from his night stand and tried to open his window with it. Again, there was no response. Not even a ripple.
Tommy was confused. Earlier that night he had practiced, passing food around, washing the dishes, all to the proud applause of his father and mother.
He tried to move a few other smaller objects with the same result.
“I can’t do magic,” he said, then ran downstairs where his parents were playing a board game.
“I can’t do magic!” he cried.
They all looked at him with confusion. His father spoke first.
“It takes time to learn a new wand,” the father said.
“It’s not that, dad,” Tommy said.
“Give it here,” his father said.
His father pointed the wand at a piece on the game board, and it moved. He handed the wand back to Tommy and told him to do the same thing.
Again, nothing moved.
Concerned, Tommy’s parents texted Verdelet, who happened to be walking up their street when the message came through.
Eager to put his mind on something other than the local thief, Verdelet rushed to their house and arrived in less than a minute.
After a few minutes of having Tommy try various simple spells, he decided that the matter needed to be brought up to the Magistra right away. It was too much of a coincidence.
Verdelet asked Tommy to follow him to Daria Rane’s house on Reflecting Lake. The pair were announced, and Circe answered the door.
“Hello,” Verdelet said. “I need to speak with your mother right away.”
“I’ll get her,” Circe said with an eye roll and sigh.
A moment later, Daria ushered them into her study. She performed a twenty minute long ritual around Tommy, then took Verdelet aside.
“He’s as magical as an Outsider,” Daria said quietly.
“So what’s happening?” Verdelet asked. “He’s always been magical. He just got his Born Right power tonight!”
“It may have been taken.”
“Taken? By whom? There is no black magic going on here. My security officers would know about it.”
“Well, apparently you don’t know everything that’s going on,” Daria said, hands on her hips and suddenly nasty. “Find out who did this. We can’t be plagued by black magic around here.”
“I’ll put a team on it. And what about Tommy?”
“The only way he can get his magic back is if you catch the person responsible for this.”
“What about school? What will he do?” Verdelet asked, alarmed for the child.
“Do non-magic children attend the Academy?” Daria asked sarcastically. “Really, Officer, do I have to tell you everything?”
“No, ma’am,” the goblin answered evenly. “I’ll tell his parents.”
“Good. And make an appointment next time you need something.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Verdelet said, half to the door that closed in his face.
He looked at Tommy sadly.
“Let’s get you home, son.”
Verdelet had more to do. With the missing ghosts case solved, High Officer Verdelet put his primary team back on investigating the thievery in Moonlight Valley. Luckily, it wasn’t anything too serious, and no reason to fear black magic involvement. Mrs. Red’s pie had gone missing, Goldenricker’s pot of gold was gone, and there were at least three other complaints. He still assumed it was a prankster, but one that probably used some pretty tricky magic. Now there was someone stealing magic as well. He didn’t know if it was the same person but he vowed to find the person or people. The pressure was on and people were counting on him, but he needed some fresh air and time to think. Verdelet decided to take a short walk. Things were up in the air. With the Necromancer still in town they would stay that way.
Thank you for reading the first book in the Witchbloom series. Book two, To Cast a Family Circle, will be released in 2017. Witchbloom is a series where the characters change as they grow up. Language, behavior and such will change accordingly. I hope you enjoy the transformation. If you do like the series please leave a review for each book. This is important to help others decide if the series is right for them. If you would like updates on when the next book is coming out check me out on my author page on Facebook. I also have a personal page that you are more than welcome to send a friends invite for. I hope you enjoy the series and keep with it. It’s a long road ahead that I’m enjoying creating with readers in mind. Share the ongoing magic which I feel is everywhere!
Welcome to Moonlight Valley! Join Zoe Bloom, a young witch, who must find her way in a magical world that is hidden from the rest of the world or known as the Outside. Something is awry in the small town of Moonlight. A black magic Necromancer is looking for a way to obtain the forbidden killing curse. Discover if he will succeed and how Zoe Bloom is intwined in the case of the missing ghosts. Who will prevail?